Our plane was so greeted, but nothing could dampen the welcome given by Narita airport; not the lack of sleep (snorer, travel excitement), not the slightly (professionally, probably) grumpy customs man, and not the heat steaming off the wet airport Tarmac. No queues, smiling people, and technology to help everywhere.
My alarm went off at six so i could wander up the road with time to look for marshrutka 80 and get a taxi if it didn’t run that early. It turned out, though, that the girl who was looking after the hostel in owner Larissa’s absence spoke English, unbeknownst to me, and after she’d broken the ice as I was leaving with “where are y from?” (It’s odd but charming that the “you” is present yet more of a guttural presence than anything else) she phoned one for me. As we waited it started to get light. I dislike starting a journey in the dark, at least in unfamiliar surroundings, and it makes me nervous. She seemed to check her voicemail, and the casually turned and said “let’s go” so we sauntered out front, she checked the cars and picked one, then after a quick goodbye, borne of “but I could have spoken to someone yesterday” on my part and “I cannot now practice my English” on hers, Sergei “what is your name?” (no further questions) took me in to the airport – crikey, that is one unfinished driveway – took a ticket and then span round to take me right back out again. Assuming we had the wrong terminal I wondered idly, and presumptively, whether the international one would be more grand. No, is the answer – there is no parking control here, and it looked closed. Once inside I could see why. On the list of flights, the bottom three had ‘flight of 04.09’ next to them to save you getting confused. There are only three international flights, Tokyo, Bangkok and Yantai. Tomorrow’s menu has Seoul, Hong Kong and Jiamusi. Keeping it varied. Sergei did have one final question; “money, John?”, and I said yes. I assume he meant do you have any, or are you expecting to use a card, rather than gimme. Truly, Helsinki Andy’s advice to translate with added politeness has come in handy.
I was early, waited, went through a second lot of baggage security and checked in. Nice unconventional routine to keep me on my toes. Once through passport control I realised I was relieved – I’d wondered whether I’d be quizzed over my lack of visa registration. It’s something you’re supposed to do if you’re in one place for 7 days or more, so perfectly possible not to need to, but I had been in Moscow for 10 nights and the hostel just forgot to do it. I got the refund and now I was out without having to make up an itinerary. Frankly I was by then so far away from Moscow, who’d think I had stayed anywhere for any time?
Two and a half hours and we were down in Tokyo. The heat hit even stepping off the plane, though the airport was cool and seemed pleasantly empty. I’m sure it’s busy, maybe we were lucky. At Khabarovsk the check in lady had looked through my passport and looked up, surprised to find nothing in there for Japan; “do you need visa?”. If I do, I’m screwed, I didn’t say, but I trusted my own research rather than that this was a question borne of more knowledge than I had. Sure enough, at the airport I stopped by the landing cards (having blithely said I didn’t need one on the plane and not, by now, trusted that they’d know) and a lovely smiley man with a great American accent came over to help. No problem with writing in any info that was not quite right, you can just cross it out on this card – add your home town, “Manchester, Liverpool, London; all the great football teams. Oh.” (The latter was his reaction, on seeing I had put Ware, I guess he’s not following that far down the pyramid), and I was into a passport queue of 1, in front of a be-masked but welcoming man and giving my fingerprints and a picture within minutes. Another smiley man asked if I’d filled out a customs form. Doing that gave me time for my rucksack (wt 11.5kg, I’d checked for future budget airline booking purposes) to appear and I was through the intensive interrogation of customs man#2 – “where are you going? What is your purpose?”. I’ve never been asked those before, another great cliche ticked off.
Normally arriving into a hall, especially after a night without much sleep, I feel a slight pang that no one is meeting me, thinking how nice it would be, but not here. I’m up for Japan, and Japan has been up for visitors, it seems. It helps, perhaps more than it should, that the first thing I did on landing was to use a loo. Yes! Buttons by the side! If you’re offered an unusual shower then you should accept (note, this may not be a good rule for life, especially for females) and it put a smile on my face. I’m grinning now just thinking about it. Enough detail.
Got a ticket, got a train. My hostel for the first two nights isn’t so far into Tokyo, in Asakusa, which meant it was an easy ride. There by 12.30 I dropped off my bags and wandered to find food. Within 10 minutes not only was I asked directions to the station but could answer – positive attitude, an expectation that things will work here, or just being ready for a new country; I don’t know why, but I’m expecting great things of my time here. Possibly it’s because from here I have no plans other than parkrun, Muse and cricket in Australia starting November, and that freedom is making me giddy. Or it’s that squirting water (please stop, ed.).
It helps that I’ve eaten. The hostel’s map marks lots of eating places, but there are approximately 5x that number around. I’m sure I picked one of theirs, the waiter was most concerned that they only had Japanese menus, but I managed to turn “frankly geezer, gorblimey, at this stage I’ll eat a scabby horse, knawotimean, I’ll point at summat and you just keep it coming” into “it’s okay, I’ll point, can I sit here?”. He brought me green tea – any caffeine in that? Certainly helped the giddy feeling for some reason. Then came a bowl of salad. I was hoping this wasn’t it, but already planning how I would cope on it. But no, big fat bowl of rice and chicken and ohthankgod,firstpropermealintwodays.
The sights of Asakusa are temple oriented. Somehow I didn’t find the oriental religious bit as offensive as I normally do western. Novelty, perhaps, but I intellectualised it (as you do; there may be other words) by thinking that the east didn’t have a religious-promoted dark ages. Did they? Development slowed in some ways, but not for such harmful “hide the clever things from the normal people at any cost” reasons. Hmm, more research needed. I still didn’t shake the pot and retrieve my fortune from the numbered drawer as offered. Lovely temples, especially the five storied pagoda. Apparently the first three stories are slightly tedious morality plays, but the next one has lions vaulting tigers and the fifth, phew, leaves fifty shades of grey several shades short of satisfaction.
Still giddy, I found a mall; Uniqlo, but Japanese! Whoop! I see why they’re a big deal, cheapo goodness. Managed not to buy anything till I realised floor 7 was a 100¥ store (actually 105, but I’ve seen that before; Burnley’s 105 bar never did update for inflation, and I’m still reading 2000ad) and got a bargain headphone extender (having left my decent ones in Helsinki, I’ve been using some Nokia ones which are fine but one side has only a lead only 5cm from the plug, ridiculous unless you wear the iPod on your neck) and a USB splitter. Doubled my charging productivity.
Emerging, the heat hit almost physically. I found new respect for the local I’d seen running at 12.30 when I arrived. The thought of tomorrow’s interval session with Namban Rengo (“Tokyo’s only serious running club catering for foreigners”) is off putting, albeit in a “come on!” sense.
“The market didn’t self-correct, as he (Greenspan) had assumed it would”
Summary: ran yesterday, 1:07:55, 12.83km. New country, bottom shower, smiling passport controller techno overload yay! Reading: Nick Hornby (unlike Bruce, has no Range), Juliet, Naked.
“Oh well. You win some and you lose some.”
“And this one was a loser?”
Yes, Annie wanted to say. That’s what the expression means, you dimwit. Nobody comes down from the Olympic rostrum with a gold medal around their neck and says “you win some, you lose some.”