Jet lag is a bitch. I went to bed at around midnight last night and had planned to get up at 5:30 so that I could catch the free shuttle that the Hilton provides to downtown Narita so that I could go check out the Narita-san. I woke up at 2:30AM two and half hours after I went to bed and my head was wide awake, my body was exhausted by my head was raring to go, damn you internal clock. I laid in bed trying to fall back asleep and finally gave up that fight at 4:30. I got out of bed and watched some very strange Japanese talk shows, went out to the vending machine (which sells beer, wish I knew that last night) and got myself a coke and got ready for my first trip out exploring in Japan. It was during this process when I learned that I forgot the memory card for my good camera…arrrgh!, thankfully I brought two cameras so I wasn’t totally out of luck but I would have loved to have had my SLR at Narita-san.
Beer vending machine anyone?
The Hilton runs a free shuttle to and from the airport as well as downtown Narita which was a great service. The first downtown shuttle was at 6:15 and that was the one I took. I had to be at the airport by 11:15 to catch my train to Tokyo. It didn’t give me a lot of time but it was plenty to check out Narita-san.
Narita-san is a Buddhist temple that is said to date back to 800AD, it has many classic Japanese Pagodas and halls and large nature area with a pond and waterfalls. It is the second most popular temple in Japan and attracts thousands of worshipers every year.
While on the shuttle to Narita-san there were a couple of other English speaking tourists on the shuttle with me and as they talked it became readily apparent that they had been to Narita-san so once the shuttle dropped us off I asked them to point me in the right direction and I was off. From what I have read part of the fun of the temple is the walk there. The road leading from Keisei Narita station to the temple is lined with many many stores selling all sorts of traditional japanese goods. Unfortunately for me, when I made the walk pretty much no one was open so I missed out on that aspect, the good thing about getting there so early was that I practically had the place to myself.
One look at the temple grounds and it’s very obvious you are in Japan. When I think of Japan these are the types of buildings I think of. The place is awesome, while walking around you can just feel all the culture and history and it’s hard to not be awed by what you are seeing. One of the first things I saw when I walked on the grounds was a procession of monks who walked right by me then into a building and started chanting, it was really amazing.
I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking here, so here they are.
After walking around for a few hours it was time for me to head back to the hotel so that I could make my way up to Misawa. On the way back to the shuttle a few of the shops were open but it was still very quiet, I did stop and pick up something to drink and a bag of chips, my first time (excluding vending machines) using Yen. Thankfully most of the time they use normal numbers for pricing things so it’s obvious how much something is going to cost you.
I also saw a beer vending machine out on the street. We need these in the US.
I got a little turned around trying to find the shuttle pickup spot but after retracing my steps I finally found it, of course I when I did finally find it it was about 3 minutes after the scheduled pickup time so I had to wait for half an hour for the next shuttle. It was kind of nice being able to just sit and watch people and cars. It was also during this period where I noticed something awesome. Japan is an amazingly clean place, I have seen very little graffiti, very little trash in the gutters and it’s just generally a very clean place. This is surprising to me for a couple of reasons, there seem to be very few public garbage cans and many japanese people smoke. I have not seen a single cigarette butt on the ground, not one. When I looked around and noticed how many people were smoking and then that there were no butts anywhere I was totally amazed, that’s definitely not the case in the US and we have public garbage cans all over the place.
Oh I almost forgot, the temple must be near a school because I saw tons of Japanese school girls and boys and yes, they really do dress like that. I also ran across a group of workers who were doing their morning workout together, I had seen this being done on TV and I was happy to be able to see a group of workers doing it in person. The uniforms in japan are awesome, from the school kids, to the police officers, cab drivers, security workers, construction workers, they all look awesome, especially the people that are in the security roles. They all look extremely official and many of them wear white gloves. I also saw many Japanese people walking around wearing masks over their faces. I assumed that this was because they didn’t want to get sick, but it’s actually the opposite, they are the sick ones and they don’t want to get anyone else sick, that kind of sums up the Japanese and how polite and cordial they are.
Anyway, the shuttle comes and I head back to the hotel to check out. I got a bit of a shock when I checked out. Remember in day one when I said I called Scott and talked to him for about 20 minutes, that phone call cost me 3,000 yen, about $25, oops. So I check out and grab the hotel shuttle to the airport which gets me to airport around 10:40. My train isn’t till 11:16 so I have plenty of time. I walk around for a bit, trying to find the train station and I finally think that I have found it. There is a man standing in front the ticket booths who I walk up to and show him my tickets just trying to make sure that I am in the right place. He doesn’t speak a word of English but I can tell that there is something wrong, wonderful. Thankfully he brings me to a woman who speaks absolutely perfect English and she informs me that the 11:16 Narita Express that I am supposed to be traveling on has been cancelled due to an accident (most likely a suicide according to Scott) but luckily for me there is a normal train leaving at 11:00 that will get me to Tokyo in about 90 minutes (the Narita Express would have been an hour). She tells the first guy what to do and he walks me back to the ticket booth and talks to the guy working the booth and tells him what’s going on.
Let me break real quick and describe the ticket system on the trains. When I purchased my tickets the night that I arrived I was given 4 tickets. A general fare ticket, a ticket for the narita express, a ticket for the Shinkansen and one to get me from Hachinohe to Misawa. Now when you get to the train station you stick all of these tickets in at once and the machine magically reads them and spits them back out at you. The general fare ticket would actually get me all the way from Narita to Misawa but it would take about many many hours, probably like an entire day. The other three tickets are like upgrade tickets, this is a concept I didn’t get at first, I thought I was getting a ticket just for each leg of the journey.
So the guy at the booth listens to the other guy and then suddenly he is giving me back about 1,600 yen and hands me back three tickets. Now I am confused, I handed him four tickets and now there are only three, he has also changed my Shinkansen ticket to one an hour later than my original one. I try asking him about why there are only three tickets when once there were four and why I am on a later train but the language barrier was too great. I decided to head towards the entrance and ask the person working the info booth there what the hell I was supposed to do. By the way, right now it is about 10:57 and the train I am now supposed to get on leaves at 11:00. Thankfully, on my way over to the info booth I saw the woman who helped me earlier, the one who spoke perfect English, and she told me to just go down the escalator right in front of me, the train was waiting at the station on the left hand side and to just take that train to Tokyo she also informed me that they changed my Shinkansen ticket just to be on the safe side incase the train I was now riding got delayed for any reason. That is exactly what I did. It was during this ride that I kind of began to grasp how the whole ticket system works and I was happy to be on my way after that little scare.
I got to Tokyo an hour and a half before my Shinkansen was scheduled to leave which made me wish they hadn’t changed my departure time but oh well. I am now in Tokyo and I have plenty of time to catch the next train, so I am in good shape. I decide it would be a good idea to find a pay phone to call Scott and let him know that I am going to be an hour later than I thought. Now here is a weird thing, I could not for the life of me find a pay phone in Tokyo train station, not a single one. So I sat and read my book, did some people watching and bought another bag of chips and waited for my Shinkansen. It was during this time that I noticed just how short the Japanese are. I am not a tall man by any means at 5’9″ but as I stood waiting for the Shinkansen I found that I was probably taller than 95% of the people around me.
I was really hoping to get a window seat on the Shinkansen but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I got seated next to an older Japanese woman who was very sweet and even knew a little bit of English, we didn’t talk much though as she fell asleep shortly after the train started moving. Remember how I was saying how the japanese are short, they also design stuff with this in mind, my bed in my hotel was small, the seats Shinkansen are small too, almost uncomfortably so. Actually they aren’t too bad but when I first sat down I was quite surprised out how small it was. The Shinkansen are really, really fast, like 180mph fast. It’s wild going that fast so close to the ground, things just whip by at an alarming rate. They are incredibly smooth though, you could most likely leave a glass of water on the floor of Shinkansen and you wouldn’t spill a drop the whole ride. It starts and stops incredibly smoothly and the rails are like butter.
I had a cute thing happen on the train that also shows the kind of character that the Japanese have. I was sitting in my seat and an older man, probably in his 60’s motions me over. He didn’t speak English so I wasn’t sure what he wanted. At first I thought he wanted me to help him put his luggage on the rack above the seat but that wasn’t what he wanted, there was a piece of luggage in the area above his seat and he thought that it belonged to me. He just wanted me to push the luggage over to the side, and he wasn’t mad at me for putting the luggage there, he just didn’t want to disrespect me and move it himself. It turned out that the luggage actually belonged to the guy who was sitting next to him, this man wasn’t present when this all happened though. But when this man left and he the old man saw him take the luggage I could see the embarrassment on his face and when the old man got off the train he bowed down to me and said something to me in Japanese. I have no idea what he said but it sounded apologetic and he had a big smile on his face. The old man also pounded two beers on his way home, the Japanese love to drink, more on that later.
The Shinkansen ride is about three hours from Tokyo to Hachinohe and from Hachinohe I had one last train to catch up to Misawa. I made the transfer with no real drama, at first I wasn’t sure if I had the right train but a worker confirmed that I did and pointed me towards my assigned seat. This train was pretty empty and I was able to sit by the window even though my assigned seat wasn’t a window. Unfortunately by this time it was very dark outside (it gets dark here around 4:30) and I couldn’t really see anything, no big deal though, this train ride was only about 20 minutes.
Finally I arrive at Misawa, an hour later than Scotty is expecting me. I get out of the train station and I figure I will give Scott about ten minutes and then I will try and find myself a pay phone, hopefully with more luck than I had in Tokyo. No need for that though, within a couple minutes I see Scotty and we are off. First stop, shopping for beer.
We go to a little grocery store and buy ourselves an assortment of Japanese beers and then head back to Scott’s house. Scott lives in a very traditional Japanese house and it’s awesome, I am sleeping in the tatami room.
We drink a few beers and wait for Scott’s girlfriend Susan to come home. I am at this point pretty damn exhausted, I got about 3 hours of sleep the night before and have been traveling the majority of the day but I also really want to get on the Japanese time schedule ASAP. So when Susan comes home we decide to go get something to eat and more drinks.
Scott and Susan are engrossing themselves in the Japanese culture, many americans here do not. They live on the air force base or live in very american neighborhoods with no effort to try the Japanese lifestyle. Scott and Susan are the opposite, they live in a very Japanese neighborhood, they avoid the american places and both, but especially Scott, can speak and understand japanese. Scott isn’t fluent but he can usually understand what is going on and get his point across. In my opinion they are doing it the right way, I can’t imagine living here and just trying to make it the same as home, I can’t see why anyone would want to either, the Japanese are awesome.
We go to one place to eat and have a few beverages, at this point I am just drinking beers. Then we head to a bar that they call Little Man’s sign out front has a little stick man on it. Now when I say bar you can’t think American bar because the bars here are WAY different. Most of the bars here seat maybe 8 to 10 people, there is usually one person working and that person actually lives upstairs. It is much more like going over to someone’s house for drinks than it is going to a bar, it’s pretty awesome. I am not sure how much time we spent at Little Mans but at some point Scott stopped ordering me beers and starting ordering my a mixed drink, I think they were gin and tonics and let me tell you, they aren’t skimpy with their drinks, these aren’t served in little tumblers they are served in full size glasses. We eventually headed off to somewhere else, somewhere that I didn’t think I was going to do but I now like it, we went to Karaoke.
Here is the outside of Little Mans
The place that we went to you get to rent out your own private room so you don’t have to sing in front of lots of people, it’s a private party. They do serve you drinks though, they definitely do that. The drinks flowed almost as fast as the songs did, I have no idea how much I ended up drinking and singing, by this point I am not even sure how I was still functioning. I was working on about three hours of sleep, had been travelling most of the day and all of the day before, had been a bit stressed out with the travelling especially with the delays and crap that I had to deal with and I was just exhausted and now also very very drunk. But sing we did and it was a blast, let me tell you, Susan sings a mean White Rabbit, it was so good that I had to stand up and applaud her. I guess eventually the lack of sleep caught up with me and I ended up falling asleep for a bit at the Karaoke place. We left shortly after that.
Once we got home we pulled out my futon I laid down and I was asleep 3.4 seconds later.