Saturday, November 30, 2013

blogging (nearly) naked in japan

So here I am in Chitose, Japan. This is the first time in my life I've ever traveled this far, although I've certainly had my fair share of air travel within CONUS. Even my few trips across the border to Canada and south into Mexico (back when Mexico wasn't nearly as dangerous as it is today, and well before 9/11) don't count.

Oddly enough this is the first time I've used my passport, the second update to a passport I originally obtained back in the mid-1990s for travel to Japan. I worked for Mitsubishi Wireless up in Lake Mary, Florida, and I was meant to travel to Japan on a business trip. But the trip never came about, and I left the company. Now, almost 20 years later, I'm using the passport for (almost) its intended reason, but for a far different company and set of circumstances.

Waiting in Houston to board a flight to Tokyo

My trip from Orlando to Chitose started around 6:30am Thursday morning, and didn't end until 10pm Friday Chitose time. The flight itself took a solid 24 hours across three individual flights, the longest being about 15 hours from Houston to Tokyo-Narita. That flight, fortunately, was on a Boeing 777-200. Even though I was in the back (no business class for this guy!), the seat was still roomy, and miracle of miracles, it wasn't a full flight; the seat next to me was empty. So I could stretch out a bit more than I would have if the seat was filled. The other two connecting flights were completely full 737 commuter flights.

I'd like to stop for a moment and observe how polite the Japanese are, almost to a fault. Not a single Japanese individual I've had direct interactions with so far have been impolite. One of the most intense interactions came at Narita where I transferred to Chitose.

Based on instructions with the tickets, I was under the impression my one checked piece of luggage would automatically be transferred from the Houston-to-Tokyo flight to the Tokyo-to-Chitose flight. Unfortunately for me it did not; I was required by the Japanese to pick up my one piece of checked baggage from the carousel and walk it through customs just like I had done with my carry on luggage. With a 3 1/2 hour layover in Narita I had more than enough time to do that. Instead, I went through customs with just my computer and overhead bag, and headed over to the gate to board the flight to Chitose.

About two hours later, a very polite Japanese voice called my name over the intercom to come up to the gate. It is interesting to hear the Japanese call your name. To give them credit, they did a better job at it than I usually have gotten right here in the US with native English speakers. At least they got the syllable break. That's when they informed me about my luggage, still sitting on the other side of the security barrier back at United Air.

And so, with a little more than an hour before the Chitose flight left, I had to leave the gate, go back through the security area, back through customs, pick up my piece of luggage, back through customs for a third time, then have it checked on the Chitose flight, then back through security again, and finally back down to the gate. All that time, apologizing to everyone I met for being an idiot. At no time did anyone become an obstacle to me. The Japanese officials I came across all seemed to understand what I needed and were most helpful. It took very little time to correct my mistake, and I was able to get to Chitose with all my luggage, which is a nice thing to happen.

"Please refrain from using your mobile phone"

After getting to my hotel, I went out for a Real Meal (I'd had two airline meals on the Houston to Tokyo run, and that was it). I wound up at a little place across from the hotel called Royal Host, a Japanese family restaurant chain, where I ordered a Japanese turkey and BLT, which tasted remarkably like an American turkey and BLT. Hey, it was late, and I was really tired.

They also ask you not to use your mobile phone, at least not for voice. There were lots of Japanese using there smart phones for every thing else. I noticed the "Please refrain..." notice on all the tables, and I noticed they were all printed in English, not Japanese. Which makes you wonder...

I also noticed I was in Japan, even at a restaurant that looked very American, by how the table was set out for me. For example, I've never had a napkin and silverware placed before me in a box. The drink portions, in this case a diet Coke, came in very small glasses. We Americans are far to fat because our portions are far to large. I've had several more meals since Royal Host and I've noted the small portions, including glasses of water.

What drives home that I've come to a different land was the packet of "French" mustard written in "Engrish." I point this out not to cause any embarrassment, but to show how vital clear communications are. In a perfect world, English would translate to Japanese and back to English again with no loss in understanding. It also shows how a Japanese illiterate, such as myself, is so dependent on any scraps of English. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was originally headed over here, I took a pair of Japanese language courses to become somewhat literate. But I never used it and I've just about lost everything, especially the ability to read some Japanese. Sounds like it's time for a few refresher courses when I get back home. I supposed to return to Tokyo next February.

Today, Saturday, has been my travel recovery day. I tried not to sleep at all today, but failed, and took a two hour nap mid-afternoon local time. Now I'm awake again. If you're wondering I started writing this early this morning local time.

Sunday starts a long thirteen day, 12 hour/day, work marathon. It should be interesting.

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