I decided to just take Bart to the airport, they drop you off right at the international terminal, it’s relatively cheap, and easy. Plus I didn’t have to leave my car at the airport or try and bum a ride there.
Bart didn’t let me down. I got the airport easily and on time; things were looking good. Things at the airport were going well as well, security wasn’t too bad, took maybe 20 minutes to get through and then I checked the monitors, found my gate and waited.
I was early. I got the airport around 10 and my flight wasn’t till 12:53; well my flight was supposed to be at 12:53, more on that later. I was the first person at my gate for a long while, it was kind of weird. We were scheduled to begin boarding at 12:08 and it wasn’t till just about 12 when people started showing up.
As they were making their preboarding announcements they mentioned that the flight was on the empty side, which I found odd since it looked almost totally booked online, so I decided to see if I could maybe switch my seat to a window seat. The woman at the counter wasn’t the best communicator but she took my boarding pass from me and gave me a new one so I figured I was in luck.
Shortly after that we all boarded the plane, a little later than expected but not bad, it was maybe 12:20. I did get a window seat, sort of. I got put in the exit lane, which I have no problem with because I love all the leg room and not having to deal with people leaning back into my lap and all that jazz. The problem with my window seat is that there isn’t really a window. There is a window that is about even with my seat back that I can see out of if I really want to and there is one over the wing that I would have to get out of my seat to look out of. Oh well, I would rather be sitting here than in the middle section of the plane on the aisle, as I said I love the extra leg room.
The flight crew went through their routine, telling us how to properly kiss our asses goodbye in the event of catostraphic failure and then we waited to begin the 11 hour journey. And we waited, and then we waited some more.
Finally they make an annoucement to tell us that the mechanics on their final inspection of the plane found out that the baggage people had apparently run their vehicle into the door damaging it beyond what is legal to fly.
I am writing this in the SF airport at 3:00, remember we were supposed to leave at 12:53, and they just announced that we will now be leaving at 5:00. That’s just fantastic, that will mean we will be landing in Narita around 9:00pm, I was supposed to be at the hotel by 8, hopefully this isn’t a problem. At least they are giving us vouchers for meals here at the airport. I am going to get in line now for said voucher, I will write more later, hopefully from my hotel room in Narita.
Many hours later.
I am in Japan!!
We didn’t get lucky with tail winds on the flight, in fact at points we had 200mph headwinds, so the flight took the full eleven hours. But we did leave the gate at 5:00 and there were no further complications. On the first plane I was seated next to a man and when we boarded the plane the second time I saw that man sitting in business class so I was hoping that I was going to be sitting by myself in the exit row, it turned out that I was. Crappy thing about the exit row seats in 777s is that the armrest between the seats doesn’t go up so I wasn’t able to really stretch out but it was still nice having the row to myself.
So we arrive in Narita at around 10:30. By now I am pretty damn tired as my body thinks it’s 5:30 in the morning and I just want to get to my hotel room and go to sleep. I head to immigration and the line is really short, maybe a half dozen people in front of me. Get through that with no problems and then I head towards customs. There is absolutely no line at customs so I walk up to the man and hand him my passport and lay my bag on the table. He takes a look at my passport, takes a look at me and then waves me on through, sweet.
I have to buy myself some train tickets now to get me from Narita all the way up to Misawa which is whre my friend Scott lives who I will be staying with, Misawa is about 450 miles north of Narita. Thankfully the airport is pretty deserted at this hour so I don’t have to deal with crowds or long lines or anything like that. I head start following signs for JR East, which is the company that seems to run all the trains around here. I finally locate the ticket station and luck out again with a salesman who speaks very good English. In order to get up to Scott’s house I am going to need to take three trains. The first train I need to take is the Narita Express which runs from the Narita airport to the Tokyo train station, the Nartia Express, or NEX, makes this trip in about an hour. From Tokyo I will take a Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Hachinohe and from Hachinohe I will take a short express train trip up to Misawa. After I got the tickets taken care of it was finally time to head off to my hotel.
Now is probably a good time to bring up this amazing statistic. In 2003, the Shinkansens had an average arrival time that was within 6 seconds of the scheduled time. Six seconds! This time includes all human and natural errors and was calculated off the approxiamtely 160,000 trips the trains made that year. The bullet trains are also amazingly safe, there has never been a death caused by an accident or train derailment. There has only been one fatality in the history of the Shinkansen and that was from a door closing on a passenger. There have been a number of suicides by the trains and I guess this used to be a bigger problem in the past. According to Scott, if you decide to off yourself with a train now, your family has to pay to refund all the tickets for the people that you caused delays to.
I had reservations at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport hotel which provides free shuttle service to and from the airport so my next stop is to find the shuttle. The Hilton website states that they pick up on the first floor of terminal one at station 16. I head outside, see a bunch of people waiting at the curbs and notice all these numbered signs along the road, very easy to figure out so I start walking down to 16. I get to 16 and there is a shuttle already there so I ask the driver if he is going to the Hilton and he tells me that the hilton picks up at 14 so I turn around and head back to 14. I didn’t have to wait to long, maybe 10 minutes, but while I was waiting I got to check out some of the cars that the japanese drive. There are so many little tiny cars in japan it’s unbelievable. I am taking tons of pictures of the cars and I will eventually put together a gallery of some of the cars that I saw but let me tell you right now, tons and tons of little tiny cars. One thing that I found rather hilarious was that there was a bright yellow Hummer in the parking lot, it had to have been an americans car. It stood out so much it was ridiculous.
Anyway, my shuttle comes and the driver hops out and loads everyones bags in the van. The level of customer service here is staggering, they do everything in their power to make you experience the best that they can, they are impossibly polite and many of them wear amazing uniforms. At one point some kids were getting on our shuttle and the driver was trying to take their bags for them but they couldn’t understand what he was trying to do and just carried their bags on the shuttle, you could tell that the driver was almost feeling shame for not being able to help them and for not being able to do his job. Oh yeah, they provide all this awesome service with no thought of getting a tip, you don’t tip in Japan and many would consider it an insult if you tried.
I finally get to the hotel and thankfully the man checking me in spoke excellent English so there was no trouble there. Again, the service was incredible, when he handed me my room key he put it on this little tray, held the tray with both hands out to me and bowed deeply, it was like being presented with this awesome thing but it was just my room key. This same ritual was repeated when he gave me my credit card back and I was given my receipt and any time he handed me something.
Here is a picture from my room at the Hilton in Narita.
So now it’s 11:15 and I am in my hotel room in Narita. The room is on the small side but quite comfortable and very, very clean. I decide to give my friend Scott a call to let him know that I made it safe and sound and to tell him that I got my train tickets and what time he should expect me to be in Misawa. I chatted with Scott for maybe 20 minutes and then finally hit the sack shortly before midnight.