Landing in Japan in always fun to watch out the window. The first sights are the fields of Chiba, followed by some industrial areas and increasing density. The approach also goes over several beautiful looking golf courses, which are no doubt incredibly expensive. At this point I usually notice that all the cars are driving on the left side of the road. When I first moved to Japan in 2003 this took quite a long time to get over. It’s not quite as confusing anymore.
Narita airport is huge. I mean massively monstrously huge. Seriously. From the plane it’s about a 5 minute walk to the immigration lines. At the immigration lines people are divided into Japanese passports and all other foreign passports. One of the big improvements in the past 10 years is the increased number of foreign passport lines. I only had two people ahead of me in line and was processed through in less than a minute.
From immigration the next step is the luggage pickup. These areas are the same in any airport. Still at this point nothing looks really Japanese. The customs check is next, another quick pass through with no bag checks. I guess I look fairly harmless. All in all, this was the fastest arrival to Japan that I had ever experienced.
After leaving the arrival area I logged into good free Internet (suck it Vancouver) and sent a message to my parents. Then a quick call to my wife’s parents. No matter how old you get or how many times you travel, always let your parents know you arrived safely.
In the basement level I got in very long line for Midori no Madoguchi, the train ticket window. An airport worker walked up to me and asked me, in very good English, if I was buying a ticket for the Narita express and paying cash. I said yes, so she took me directly to the ticket machine. She helped me buy a ticket for the Narita Express and the Shinkansen to Mishima. At some point I told her in Japanese that I had lived in the country before. She started talking to me in Japanese and was very surprised that I was an accountant. Some days I am surprised that I am an accountant too.
Due to lack of space in the city and capacity at centrally located Haneda airport, Narita airport is about 60km east of Tokyo. The Narita express is the fastest (and most expensive) train from the airport to Tokyo or Shinjuku. Occasionally the train will split up and go to other stations as well. Other than the Narita Express you can take the Keisei line to Ueno for about half the price. Keisei line works well when your destination is in Tokyo and you don’t have a giant suitcase with you.
I took the Narita express to Shinagawa instead of Tokyo at the recommendation of the friendly airport lady. This was a mistake. The Kodama and Hikari Shinkansens both have cars with unreserved seats. The Shinkansen always starts from Tokyo station and the unreserved seats fill up quickly. Shinagawa is the next stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen, and when I tried to get on with the a fore mentioned giant suitcase I found that most of the unreserved seats were full. I ended up finding space on the smoking car.
Winnipeg has a smoking ban in indoor public places (bars, restaurants, etc) so I had forgotten what it was like to sit in an enclosed space full of smokers. Despite it being Sunday, the smoking car was full of salarymen on the way home, chain smoking and chugging canned coffee. Yay stimulants!
I disembarked at Mishima and got my first full blast of Japanese summer. The temperature was in the 30s and the humidity was in the high 80% range. The effect was that of walking into a sauna fully clothed, which I don’t recommend.
My in-laws met me at the station and took me to Kappa Sushi, a very popular kaiten sushi chain. The tables are all laid out beside a conveyor belt which transports plates of sushi though the restaurant. Whenever anything good comes buy you simply grab it and start eating. You can also make special orders from the screen at your table. Special orders are sent to your table on a train track just above the main conveyor. If you don’t mind the wait to get in, Kappa Sushi is a great place to stuff yourself on sushi.
If you are expecting my day to end with some exciting stories of staying up all night, drinking beer and rocking out at karaoke then I am sorry to disappoint you. After dinner we returned home, I had a shower and went to bed at 8:30pm. And I am okay with that.