Japan 2014, Part 1.

Okay! I finally sorted through the megaton of photos and whittled them down and now we can commence with the cutery and weirditude. Japan was great. I wanted to go someplace really foreign to me, and it certainly was that. You know how in, like, Europe or South America or Africa they use the Roman alphabet so even if you don’t know what you’re looking for exactly you can sound it out or at least recognize the order the letters are in and use that? You can even do that with Cyrillic. Not in Japan. Three alphabets. Three. One of them is crazy convoluted and every character looks like a maze. You cannot sound that stuff out. If the sign isn’t in English, you are S.O.L. Now a great many signs are in English, but then a great many are not and The Moomins and I were completely in the dark. Let me tell you about the street system. Fun fact: Many of the streets have no names. Yup, you heard me right. No names. And the houses are numbered by the order they were built, so 22 could be next to 458 which is next to 3. The post officer’s jobs are nightmares. Don’t believe me? Look at this small chunk of a map of Kyoto.


It can get rough if you stop paying attention. A lot of directions involve instructions like, “When you get to a corner with two lanterns and a Family Mart, make a left.” And don’t be concerned about the swastikas, they represent Buddhist temples. I saw them everywhere. I thought I would have a visceral reaction to them, but they didn’t bother me a bit. They always showed up in the most soothing of places so maybe, if I lived there, I could retrain my brain that they’re a good thing. No more wincing at swastikas would be nice.

I’m going to do this chronologically because I think it will give you a better overview of the trip. First there was the 12-hour plane flight which I couldn’t sleep on because I didn’t take any sleepytime drugs and the seats are not comfy. It was cool, I watched movies the whole time. Delta has an amazing selection of movies and they leave all the cursewords in! I sent them a letter saying thank you for not tampering with my entertainment. Anyway, we landed and I had been up for twenty hours and was exhausted and looking forward to going to the hotel and passing out on the bed. However, it was not to be. It had snowed the day before in Tokyo, the most snow they had seen in forty-odd years and they didn’t have the manpower or supplies in place to deal with it. Then the highway had black ice so they closed it. This is the only highway that goes from Narita to Tokyo, which means no shuttles, buses, limos or cabs. We arrived and stood in a line outside freezing because there was a rumor some cabs were making it through. After two hours though it was clear that was not going to happen, so The Moomins and I went into the terminal. It was not a good scene. The airport was handing out sleeping bags, blankets and bubble wrap to people and they were setting up camp anywhere they could find a place – under the stairs, in the hallway to the bathroom, directly in front of the taxi and shuttle counter (no one was using it anyway). It was bleak.


I was ready to set up camp somewhere and taste the glorious dream-state that was being painfully withheld from me, but The Moomins would have none of it. She said she was old and we had booked a hotel room with beds and paid for it already. By Jove, we were going to sleep in those beds even if we had to bribe someone to lift us via helicopter to Tokyo. It turns out that the JR train (similar to Amtrak or Metro-North) was still running, so we got on line for that. The longest line in the history of lines. It snaked back and forth through the entire terminal, folding over itself four or five times.


This was interesting: I read somewhere that one of the unofficial mottoes of Japan is “suffer silently.” Not once did I see anyone in any of the lines or lying on the floor complain or get testy in any way. In America there would have been some clearly visible grumpiness. The Israelis would have commandeered a city bus, ripped up a garbage can to create makeshift chains for the tires and chugged off for Tokyo on the closed highway (they’re go-getters, those Israelis). At one point I saw a Chinese couple ( I could tell they were Chinese because the woman was talking on the phone) and she was hella-pissed. The husband was pushing the cart of luggage and wearing their infant in a Baby Bjorn on his chest, and he accidentally hit his wife in the legs with the front of the cart. She whirled around and kicked the cart. He curtly said something and she went to slap him but he flinched and she hit the baby who started crying. If I wasn’t so intent on not losing my place in line, I would have said, “Be back in a minute,” and followed them down the hall because I could hear them yelling at each other, Doppler-style, down the length of the terminal.  No one who was Japanese did that. The only complaining I heard was from an American pilot and and an Indian couple behind me. Finally, after standing in this line for about two hours we got tickets for the JR train. We got packed in like sausages and then it left the station. But because the tracks were icy it went fifteen miles an hour. It was torturous. I almost started crying from sheer exhaustion. After a thousand years we arrived at the main Tokyo Station where we stood in yet another line outside in the cold and got a cab to our hotel. The trip from the airport to the hotel should have taken about two hours. It took eleven and a half. We got to the hotel at 3:30 in the morning. When I got back to New York and people said, “You missed some snow, it was terrible,” I was like, “I felt the effects of snow on my trip. The joy and wonder of snow was not lost on me.”


The next day was going to be vastly better because I was going to the Ghibli Museum. I went to sleep thinking about the fact that HOLY CRAP I’M IN JAPAN. And the toilet seats are heated and how glorious that is. More on that tomorrow.

Leave a Reply