Saturday, 20 March 2010

I AM HERE!!!!!

Well. Wow. I finally get round to writing this.
So. At 9am on Friday (19th), after a saddening goodbye with some of the most important people in my life, I boarded the plane. To London. The flight took a whopping 40 minutes. I then spent the next 2 or 3 hours in Heathrow, eating and staring at the departure board.

Eventually, I boarded the big plane. It was Virgin Atlantic, who I've heard look after their customers well. Economy meant that my seat was not overly comfortable, but it wasn't the usual plastic squeeze that I'm accustomed to. I sat next to a friendly Japanese man, who talked to me for a while (mostly telling me about how slow Japanese drivers were). The seats came with a pillow and a blanket, and we were later given a goodie bag (socks, a blindfold - for sleeping! - and a toothbrush and toothpaste) and headphones for using the individual entertainment systems.

The screens you get let you watch anything from a wide range of films, TV programmes, or listen to albums and stories. After watching the pilot of Glee and trying to start on Men Who Stare and Goats, I found my eyelids drooping (I didn't sleep on Thursday night, by the way!) I found a meditative soundtrack called "Falling to sleep". It didn't really work, as a particularly loud child kept waking me up every time I was near sleeping. We were fed... I had vegetable pasta (with a small Gu pudding!) and later on some form of English breakfast. I was struck by the neat and perfectionist way in which the man next to me arranged his bento box lunch after eating everything, from the way he folded the napkin up and the precise angles at which the whole thing seemed to be arranged just for throwing away. I looked at my own mess of napkins and felt ashamed! It reminded me, though - aesthetics are a massive part of Japanese culture, and to see that make its way into such small parts of daily life made me smile.

The entertainment things were meant to show a map of where the plane was - but it didn't work... which was a shame as there were some very pretty bits of land about an hour in, and I wanted to know what they were. For example this sand crescent!

Anyway, after dozing in and out of consciousness (I MIGHT have managed about 3 hours sleep) it was nearly time to land. Panic gripped me as I realised that I was landing - in Japan!! The thought of carrying my two massive suitcases and freakishly large and heavy hand luggage through train stations, unable to understand the language, had been pressing on the back of my mind for a long time - but now it was the next step. I looked out of the window and the first thing I saw was this sight:
Pretty, eh? Snow capped mountains! I'm not even sure what part of Japan this was. We flew over some interesting stuff, some hot springs (I think) and a big golf course.

Upon checking in, I followed Arrivals signs and into the Immigration queue. They took my fingerprints and a photo (supposedly of my eyes)... this, coupled with the fact that Manchester airport apparently uses full body scans now (the machines that see you naked!) would normally freak my liberal side out beyond belief. I have campaigned against a database state, and yet found myself not really caring. Hmmm. That's a quandry for another day, though.

So! My luggage was there, having made it safely all the way from Manchester. I don't want to recall the embarrassment of trying to navigate two massive suitcases behind you, with a large handbag and a big piece of heavy hand luggage (ie a massive bag) on your shoulders, especially up and down escalators and around corners. I probably annoyed a lot of people, and I could do with a very good massage and a hot bath (I guess I'm in the right place!). I carried it through customs and found myself near a small cafe. I ordered myself a coffee... in Japanese! I was so proud of myself. All it takes is "kohi o kudasai" but still! I took a moment of calm and drank my coffee, feeling glad that I didn't have to sit on all my luggage at once to avoid it being stolen (as I would probably always do in the UK).

Then - the journey to Hamamatsu! It was pretty painless (luggage aside). I had to get one Shinkansen to Tokyo, which took about an hour, and then another to Hamamatsu. We'd been given instructions by our branch, so I knew which lines to look for. I went up to real people at desks (I always have trouble with ticket machines, I doubted these would be any exception - what with my lack of Japanese reading ability) and told them where I needed to go. It was pretty expensive but I got reserved seats. After being led to beleive that trains in Japan are super-packed, I was pleasantly surprised by how empty the carriages were. Also... it was more comfortable than the aeroplane... and those things go FAST! It was the first time I was perfectly content to "watch the world go by" for 3 hours...

My first ever ticket....
And a video I took HERE!

When you see something cool through the window of the shinkansen, you definitely need "motion mode" on your camera, because by the time you press the shutter it's gone again. The houses are all so pretty... I saw a bright pink one... MASSIVE blocks on flats, each balcony adorned with drying laundry... random little houses in the middle of massive fields... trees, some cherry blossoms, farmers ploughing. On the way to Hamamatsu there was a time when we'd go through a tunnel for ages, and then out into the sunlight, to be given a small glimpse of what looked like valley villages. Sadly my camera wasn't fast enough. Oh, and if you try taking a picture of a bullet train when it goes past you - well, you have approximately 8 seconds.

I finally got into Hamamatsu at about 2.30pm (Japanese time) - we are 9 hours ahead of the UK, by the way, so when I got in to Japan at 9.30am it was about 12.30am back home! I had failed to call Aaron (training co-ordinator) because the first time I tried he was in the shower, and I told his wife I'd call back. You can make phonecalls from on board the shinkansen - I bought a phonecard and everything - but it took me about 20 attempts to get through! When he did answer, he was outside Hamamatsu station, as was I. The hotel was only a 5 minute walk, and I finally had a very tall American man to carry half the burden!

Today and tomorrow is the dance festival, which I'm sad to have missed (some of it - we'll see about tomorrow!). It was a bit surreal to see hoards of Japanese people in very traditional dance costumes cross the road... but ultimately awesome. I got into the hotel and prompty collapsed... had a shower (because you too would smell after all that travelling and luggage-lugging) and told everyone I was here. My hotel room is pretty small... but it has a hairdryer, Green tea, and the toilet has one of the bidet things so... might experiment later.

Anyway, not content with just going to bed, I contacted Andy - who has been in Hamamatsu for a year already, and who I hoped could help me feel more at home here. Well, he certainly did that - he came to my hotel, accompanied by four Japanese friends and two other ALTs (which later became 5)! Everyone was really friendly, and we walked around Hamamatsu. Well. Pretty lights, and it looks amazing here.

We went into an arcade and got some Purikura - a great souveneir of my first night!! Purikura, if you don't know, is similar to the "sticker machines" in the UK, only the booths are MASSIVE! 10 of us comfortably fit in there. You can choose different backgrounds, and the machine takes several photos. Outside, you can edit the pictures to your heart's content - slogans, pictures, adding hats and sunglasses to people etc. It then prints out a selection of the pictures - they are about 2.5x1.5cm each, at a guess! Beautiful.

We then went into a restaurant/bar about 2 minutes away from my hotel. It wasn't really traditional Japanese food - my new friends urged me to have the club sandwich!! In the end, I ended up having what was essentially spaghetti bolognese with very interesting pieces of what I guess (and hope) was ham.. and unlimited soft drinks for 300Yen (ish)... I tried Melon Fanta, which is nice and looks pretty radioactive.

So. Here I am, in my tiny hotel room, flyers for adult channels everywhere and the shinkansen whispering past my window every few minutes (but blink and you'll miss it). Two minutes away is a vending machine selling hot coffee, and tomorrow I will have to decide whether to have a Japanese breakfast or a "Western" one!.... and maybe catch some of that dance festival. Although Aaron mentioned a typhoon, so that'll be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Do me a favor and check to see if the Western breakfast counts pancakes as dessert. I've yet to find a Japanese restaurant, Western style or not, that hasn't made that distinction.

    Also, why does Virgin give you socks?