The day has finally come, and I’ve made it over 10,000 kilometers to the other side of the world. The most surprising part about travelling to Tokyo, at least for me who has never traveled internationally, was watching my surroundings go from intimately familiar to incredibly foreign.
The morning started at 3 A.M. in Orlando, since I had to catch a 6:30 connecting flight to Toronto. I felt strong deja vu, since I had taken a 6 A.M. flight back to Yale after spring break, from the moonlit drive on the highway to the unique features of the Orlando airport which I’ve been through so many times. The security line ended up taking less than five minutes, so I was kicking myself a little while I waited on the flight. But better safe than sorry.
I was passed out the whole time on the flight to Toronto, which made things easy. On arrival I did get a little turned around, but otherwise it was a smooth layover. Toronto was like any other airport I’ve been to, except all announcements were repeated in French. Not quite enough to constitute a culture shock. I ended up watching anime in the Terminal for five hours while I waited on the next plane.
The long flight to Tokyo wasn’t bad at all, and the melatonin I took helped me sleep through the first half. After I woke up, I watched anime and studied out of my Japanese text book. One of the in-flight movies was a cartoon about a group of exchange students in Japan. I identified with it. I kept a close eye on the in-flight map. We were just going over the Bering Straits as I woke up, and I watched us fly in over Siberia, some Russian islands and finally over Japan. Announcements on this plane were in English, French, and Japanese. When we flew over the Kanto plain (where Tokyo is), I was struck by the vast expanse of lush, green, wet rice fields. When we finally landed, my legs were ready to start being useful again.
The Tokyo airport “went from 0 to 100, real quick,” as they say. Coming out of the gates, I noticed that the signs were miles beyond my capability to read them, but most were accompanied by English. There was a crowd at customs, and I started to test some stock Japanese phrases with the airport staff. It was when I got to the ground transportation level that it hit me that I was actually in a different country. The place was packed with Japanese faces, and I didn’t know whether to go by train or bus to the hotel. The man at the baggage delivery service did his best to help me out, despite my bad Japanese, which made me feel more comfortable. I ended up meeting up with other SANC students and we helped each other get on to the right bus, safe and sound.
After a long ride into the heart of Tokyo, we arrived at the hotel. We checked in as a group, and were greeted by other SANC students who had arrived earlier. We decided to try our luck wandering around Shinjyuku and looking for a place to eat. Before we left one of us said, half-joking, that she wanted to eat at a conveyor-belt sushi place. But when we ran into one, after yelled encouragements from the host, we ended up eating there. It was novel, delicious, and surprisingly cheap. After eating, we walked around the neighborhood more, and visited the hectic, noisy and colorful habitats of the Tokyo arcade scene. One place was entirely slot machines, filled with the din of showering coinage and the scent of tobacco and vape pens, almost every machine with a uniformly dressed “salaryman” in front of it. My impression of Shinjyuku, with its vitality and colorful lights, was an urban playground.
I am writing this in my bed at Shinjyuku Washington Hotel. It is a very small, single bedroom but it has a lot of nifty Japanese features. The bath is a huge plus, especially after a day of travelling. I woke up at 4 A.M. and started writing, which I suppose means that Jet-lag is not yet defeated.
Thanks for reading. A common sign-off in Japanese is the phrase “yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” which translates to “treat me well, please,” but means a lot of different things depending on the context.
Until next time,