This is the sixth part of the multi part series. This post will cover my arrival in Japan, so I suppose you could start here if you wanted. The only trouble is, it might not make a lot of sense without the background information. Please back track to the first post, here. If you already faithfully read all that came before, I commend you, and you may proceed without confusion.
As I stepped off the airplane and into the gate, it felt like I had been hit by a wall of humidity. After the freezing interior of the plane, where I had sat shivering for the past thirteen hours, it was like stepping into a warm bath. At first it was a relief, and then after walking for a few minutes it was becoming uncomfortable.
I would never dream of complaining, since my entire trip was paid for and it was a once in a life time opportunity...but I come from Alaska originally, and I have always hated hot summers. If I had been picking the time of my trip, I should never have settled on going to Honshu in the end of June. However, none of that mattered anyway, because I was in Japan. From the moment that the wheels had hit the tarmac, I had finally accomplished my greatest goal in life and found my way to Japan.
My eyes roved from side to side taking in everything. So far, it wasn't much different from every other airport I had been to in America. Blank walls, long hallways, typical walk to the gate. The only real sign that I was in Japan were the signs, which were in both English and Japanese. Mostly they were written in hiragana, the phonetic alphabet, which I just so happen to be able to read. Not that I can understand what I'm reading, but hey, baby steps. I got a lot of joy out of being able to sound out those signs while I made my way to customs.
Narita airport is a big place, and the busiest international airport in Japan. It took me a little while to figure my way out of it, but I finally I had my luggage, I had cleared customs and I was headed out of the doors. There was a throng outside the airport, people picking up friends, family, or clients. I barely had time to take in the crowd before I heard someone shouting "Kipp-San!" I turned to the left and saw three people beckoning to me. One of them was holding a large camera. Here we go again. I rolled my suitcase their way and put my show-face on.
I had already been informed that Mari-San wouldn't be available to film the second part of my episode. None of these faces were familiar to me, but they all beamed and treated me like a long lost friend. The new director, a small man with dazzling orange tinted glasses, started talking to me immediately. The woman to his right, my new interpreter, started translating in flawless, British accented, English.
"Welcome to Japan!" they said. I can remember very little of what was actually said during these first moments, I was so overwhelmed, and it took me a few minutes to adjust. They asked me what I thought about Japan so far, how the flight had been, and if I was excited to try kamaboko. I nodded and smiled and answered to the best of my abilities. They then asked me if I had heard of Nagasaki. When I said I had, they asked if I knew anything about it. I suddenly felt pretty awkward as an American. "Um, a little?"
"Did you know that it's famous for it's kamaboko?" the director asked me.
"Oh, no, I didn't," I said.
"Oh, then how do you know about Nagasaki?" he asked.
I hesitated to mention 1945. "It's one of the better known Japanese cities," I said hurriedly.
"Well, that's where we will be going tomorrow," said the director with great excitement. After I had expressed my enthusiasm, the director spoke to the interpreter in a low voice. She turned to me and said, "Sorry, but he's going to ask you again if you know anything about Nagasaki. Could you just say that it's famous for its kamaboko?" This was my first introduction to the unreality of television. The director asked me again and I prattled for a few seconds about the cities incredible kamaboko. Satisfied, the director nodded his head to the cameraman, and the lens moved away from my face. The director shook my hand and welcomed me to Japan. I asked him what his name was and he paused.
"He says he'll have to think about it," said the interpreter. "His name is too long, so he'll think of something you can call him." I tried not to laugh.
"I'm Saori," said my interpreter, also shaking my hand.
The unnamed director beckoned and we followed him out of the airport. Across the street, a van was waiting for us, as well as a small group of people. They immediately began opening the doors, taking my bags, and collecting up their gear. There were two young men, a woman, and an older man with long black hair and large gages. The woman bowed and welcomed me to Japan, speaking in English. I was glad that there were two people I would be able to speak to normally.
Everyone piled into the van and slowly we pulled away from the airport. Narita is located about an hour outside of Tokyo, and is of course a complex of modern buildings, roadways, and parking lots. It was hard to really get a feel for being in Japan until we had passed these structures and got onto the highway. It was sometime around then that I realized that the man with the long hair and gages was driving, and that he was sitting on the right hand side of the van. And that meant, of course, that we were driving on the left side of the road. This was something that I had known about Japan, but it was singularly bizarre to experience it.
I tried to look at the countryside as we drove, but it was hard to see, since there were tall concrete walls on either side of the highway. Before I could really take in that I was in another country, Saori-San started asking me about life in Maine. She asked if we had very harsh winters and I said, no, not really, not on the coast anyway. "Do you have summertime?" she asked. I was confused and must have looked it, because she continued.
"I don't know if you do it in America," she said, "but in Britain they change the time, during the summer, and then again in the winter."
"Oh," I said, "yes, we have it, but we call it Daylight Savings Time. You don't do that here?"
"No," she said. "Why do they do it in America?"
"Well, they say that it's for farmers," I said, "but it's pretty universally hated in America." Of all the things that I would first talk about in Japan, I didn't think Daylight Savings Time would be one.
We drove on for a while, me talking with Saori-San and sometimes the director. Suddenly, everyone got really excited, pointing out of the window and attracting my attention. I looked where they were indicating, but only saw a somewhat strange collection of colorful concrete buildings. "It's Disneyland," said Saori-San. "Oh," I said, looking again, but the buildings were passed. Someone else said something and everyone started laughing. For a minute I thought that they were laughing at me, in the self-conscious sort of way you do when everyone else is speaking a different language.
Saori-San smiled at me and explained. "I guess they were excited to show you Disneyland, but it turned out that was just a Disney hotel." "Oh," I said again.
"I'm not really into that sort of thing," said Saori-San. I said I wasn't either, meaning theme parks. "I don't even really know what it's all about," she continued. "What is it? Mice?"
"Oh," I said. "Well, a mouse, Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse and Princesses."
Saori-San looked very confused. I had one of those weird out of body experiences when you see your familiar culture through someone else's eyes and realized how bat-poop-crazy it sounds.
Once the conversation had died down a little, I rested my head against the window and watched the countryside fly by. I was exhausted. I hadn't slept in about twenty four hours, not to mention it was about four o'clock in the morning according to my internal clock. Before I realized what was happening, I nodded off.
Fifteen minutes later I jerked awake, and quickly wiped the drool off my hand. We were just entering the city. I don't spend a lot of time in cities in general. Aside from the occasional visits to Portland, or passing through Boston on my way to Nantucket, I'm a country bumpkin. The last time I was in a city as impressive as Tokyo was the summer of my freshman year of high school, when my dad took me on a trip to New York. Tokyo was breathtaking.
We drove over the Rainbow Bridge, and I was treated to a stunning view of Tokyo Tower, the iconic red lattice structure built in the 1950s. It was like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the rocket ship that Tintin flew to the moon. Despite the fact that I had been asleep seconds before, I felt wide away, my eyes taking in everything. The tall buildings, the green trees, and Tokyo Bay. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures.