(nihon kara konnichi wa; hello from Japan)

I just arrived yesterday at Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, Japan.  Unfortunately, I did not manage to get any sleep on the flight, so by the time I got to bed last night around 9:00 pm Tokyo time I had been up for just about 24 hours.  9:00 pm in Tokyo is 5:00 am PST and that’s the time I had to get out of bed to leave for the airport in Portland.  Needless to say, I have a little adjusting to do, indicated by the fact I woke up around 5:00 am Tokyo time and was unable to get back to sleep.  Oh, well.

I suppose I might as well start from the beginning since this is my first post here.  I am currently a student at the University of California, San Diego studying Electrical Engineering.  When I’m not in San Diego, I live with my family in Lake Oswego, OR.  I have also been studying Japanese for the past three years and I finally decided to go to Japan and study at Tohoku University for a year through the UC Education Abroad Program.  Dealing with the EAP people has been a bit of a pain; they’ve been very slow with communicating important information like program start dates.  And on top of that, not long after we made the flight arrangements, Korean Air changed the time of my flight from San Francisco to Seoul so that I would miss the connecting flight from Seoul to Narita.  Fortunately, we found a direct flight to Japan as a replacement.  However, we were still stuck with the early morning flight from Portland to San Francisco, so I had to get up at 5:00 am to leave for the airport then kill a few hours in the airport before the 11 hour flight across the pacific.

After dealing with a bunch of overweight baggage paperwork in Portland, the first leg of the flight was pleasantly uneventful.  I arrived in San Francisco on time and made my way through the airport.  It was my first time in the international terminal, though, so it took me a couple of passes to find the ticket counter for ANA.  It’s amazing how many international airlines there are, though I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised because SFO is a major international hub.  I had to kill a couple of hours in SFO before getting on the plane, so I got a bite to eat and then unsuccessfully attempted to get a wifi connection on my computer for a while.  Why does free airport wifi have to be so uncooperative sometimes?  After a couple of hours of fiddling with my computer, watching people filter in, peering out the window, solving my Rubik’s cube, and watching the horde of flight attendants deal with pre-flight paperwork, I finally got on the plane.

The flight to Tokyo was a bit more than 11 hours.  The plane arrived in SFO a little late so it was a bit late getting off the ground, but they managed to make it up and the flight ended up landing on time.  All of the announcements were in Japanese then English, giving me a chance to maybe figure out the Japanese version first.  The flight attendants all spoke understandable yet somewhat broken English.  There were two meals during the flight and the food was quite reasonable.  Each seat had its own little LCD monitor and wired remote with a reasonable selection of movies.  I spent a good portion of the flight watching Green Zone followed by the Bourne trilogy interspersed with listening to music, filling out customs forms, and solving my Rubik’s cube for the flight attendants.

Upon arrival in Tokyo, I had about to stand in line at customs for an hour or so.  Afterwards, I had to collect my luggage and turn in some customs forms at an inspection station.  Fortunately, they didn’t need to look in any of my bags.  After that, I had to get my luggage shipped to the Weekly Mansion in Sugamo.  However, the information I had been given didn’t mention the fact that there were four shipping companies located right next to each other.  After making a reasonable guess as to which one would probably be the cheapest, I filled out the forms and left my two larger bags with them.

After lightening my load, I went downstairs to the train station.  The attendant at the counter managed to speak enough English to sell me the tickets that I needed to get to Minamisenju station (南千住駅).  I had to take the Narita Express train for about 40 minutes to the Nippori station (日暮里駅) then switch to the Joban line (常磐線) for just a couple of stops.  Trans in Japan are a breeze!  The ride on the Narita Express was quite pleasent.  Nice seats and not half bad scenery.  Definitely beats getting stuck in traffic and having to stare at a bunch of other cars.

When I arrived at Nippori, I had essentially three conflicting sets of directions for what to do next – the instructions for getting to the Weekly Mansion in Sugamo, the instructions from the travel agency for getting to the hotel, and the instructions the lady at the station at Narita had given me for getting to Minamisenju station.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten what line she had told me to transfer to, so I referred to the travel agency instructions which assumed I was at a different station.  After confusing a couple of station employees by asking about the Hibiya subway line which doesn’t even come through Nippori, I showed them my ticket and told them where I was trying to get to.  After getting that sorted out, I managed to get to Minamisenju without incident.  However, upon arrival, I had two sentences worth of directions to the hotel from the station, so I started out by going the wrong way on the main road.  After I figured out that I was actually on the right road, just going the wrong way, I managed to find the place and get checked in.

Japan seems to have an interesting method of building things.  Generally the buildings have a small footprint and go up many stories.  The Juyoh hotel I am staying at is no exception.  I was on the sixth floor and I made the mistake of walking right past the elevator on the way in and going up many flights of steep, narrow stairs.  Needless to say the first thing I did after dropping my bags in my room was to take a shower.  I’m not exactly used to the hot, humid weather here in Tokyo in addition to climbing a significant set of stairs.  After getting that out of the way, I took a few snapshots of the view with my new camera.  Unfortunately the view isn’t much to speak of, but it’s not so bad since I’m only here for one night.

When I finally got around to venturing outside in search of food, I couldn’t find any open restaurants.  So I just stopped by a セブンエレブン (sebunerebun), the Japanese version of 7-11, for some grub.  Convenience stores in Japan (called コンビニ, konbini) are quite different from those in America, I would say enough so to warrant a dedicated post on the subject.  I ended up getting a carton of milk, a pastry for breakfast in the morning, some tea, and some sushi.  The tea was good and the sushi was tolerable.

I ended up getting to bed around 9pm Tokyo time last night, and at that point I had been awake for just about 24 hours.  Unfortunately, the sun streaming in the window woke me up at around 5am and I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Oh, well.  I eventually rousted myself and ate breakfast.  The milk I had bought was a bit weird but the pastry was quite good.  Apparently Japanese milk has a rather different flavor from milk in the U.S.  After breakfast I got connected to the internet in the lobby because for whatever reason I was having no luck with the wireless.  I’m thinking the reason was a bit of psychological warfare on behalf of the Ubuntu developers because the network used WEP encryption (thought to be worse than no encryption because it has been completely cryptographically broken) and I have been able to connect to WEP networks just fine before I upgraded to Ubuntu 9.10.  Rather annoying, but it wasn’t that big of a deal because it was only for one night.

And there you have it, a record of my first day and night in Japan.