On departure day I woke up early, enjoyed my last free shower for the next year (more to come on this), and waited for my parents to pick me up and take me to the airport. My parents live outside of Winnipeg, so they spent the night in a hotel in order to take me to the airport. We didn’t want to take any chances on missing an international flight, so we got to the airport around 6:00 for my 7:30 flight to Vancouver. I didn’t expect anyone else to be there, but my friend Junk (not his real name) surprisingly showed up to see me off. My parents, Junk and I sat around enjoying my last Tim Hortons coffee for a very long time. For any non Canadians reading this – Tim Hortons is a hugely popular and succesful coffee chain in Canada. There are more Tim Hortons locations than McDonalds.
My parents were both excited for me, but also nervous at seeing their son travel to the other side of the planet for a year. When the time finally came I hugged them both and made my way through security. Looking back I could see them waving good-bye until I was out of sight.
Having never traveled by myself before, I was more than a little nervous. The first flight was easy enough – Winnipeg to Vancouver with a brief stop in Saskatoon to pick up more passengers. In Vancouver I had a 4 hour wait until my flight to Tokyo. Since Vancouver airport was huge, I was worried about getting lost and went almost directly to the international departure area. As soon as I entered, I started feeling like I had already left the country. My gate was between two other flights to Asian destinations, and I was one of the few white faces in the crowd. As I waited, I listened to bits and pieces of conversations in several different languages, trying hard to focus on any Japanese I could recognize.
When the flight finally boarded, I found myself sitting next to two young Japanese ladies, likely students. (To this day I can’t accurately guess Japanese people’s ages). I learned something valuable that day – Japanese people have the ability to fall asleep in any moving vehicle at any time. They were both soundly sleeping before take off. Being an excited Canadian guy who had never traveled solo before, I found myself unable to sleep for the entire flight.
The flight was about 10 hours long, but felt much, MUCH longer. By the end of a 10 hour flight the air is stale, the seats are uncomfortable, and you just want to get off the damn plane. I spent the last 30 minutes glued to the window, watching the land getting closer. My first impression of Japan from the air was that everything was really crowded and all the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. What I thought was crowded was nothing compared to what I was about to experience once we landed.