Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trip to Japan part 1

I’ve been having a hard time deciding to post about my trip to Japan or not without pictures (my SO still has the camera in Japan right now), but I then realized that I could still talk about the flight and arrival at my in-laws house, as I didn’t bother taking any shots the first day.

It was a relatively sunny day when we left Portland, Oregon on our quickly planed trip to Japan. Do to the fact that Portland is a smaller city, we don’t’ have many international flights. So it’s a real relief that a direct flight to Narita is available. Northwest picked up the Japanese route a few years ago after Delta airlines abandoned it due to a lack of passengers. This is because few years’ back we had racist jerks running the Customs and Immigration service here in Portland and they treated non-whites (especially Asians) like crap. There was all manner of crazy actions like: strip-searches, days on end detentions, visitors chained up in leg irons, and refusals to allow jailed visitors to contact anybody. It got so bad that Portland was dubbed Deportland. Most of these visitors were business travelers mind you. Well, I’m happy to report that things have been turned around since then with new folks running the show. Because of this, Northwest airlines decided to provide service to Japan via Portland. It’s wonderful not to have to wait for a connecting flight in another city anymore.

Originally, my SO and I were not sitting next to each other, as we had to book the flight late. Neither of the 20-something bitches (one next to me, one next to my SO) would move so we could sit next to each other but luckily the fight attendant found someone else willing to trade seats. Long trips are an exhausting and boring experience magnified by the fact that I can’t sleep on planes because I’m so uncomfortable, however this time it wasn’t too bad. I passed the time watching The Simpsons and Transformers movies, and reading Harry Turtledove’s Agent of Byzantium. Travel Note: If you are on an international flight and they don’t have individual LCDs with interactive movies, audio, and games, you’re getting screwed.

We touched down in the evening at the Narita airport, and instantly felt the blast of humidly as we stepped off the plane. Both of us were in a surreal kind of fog, as usually there is this big anticipation for months before such a long trip, but now we were just suddenly in Japan. We didn’t have any trouble with customs. We tried to get a female for the baggage inspection/interview but luckily the explanation that we were in Japan to see a gravely ill relative satisfied the male inspector. See, we’ve discovered that many Japanese men hate seeing a Japanese woman and an American (western) man together and so they give us a hard time by going by through our baggage. Female inspectors, on the other hand, give us no problems at all. After that, My SO bought the bus tickets that would take us on a 2-hour ride to Omiya Station in Saitama. While waiting in line, I felt the subtle, wandering eyes of the Japanese already sizing up the gaijin. That’s something that would happen thousands of times on this visit but it’s fully expected.

Before my first trip to Japan, I couldn’t understand why my SO’s parents didn’t come to the airport to pick us up. Well, after that that first trip 5 years ago I fully understand now. It’s a huge concrete maze of toll roads, and clogged traffic. In fact, my SO says that Saitama is the countryside, but to me it’s one, big, never-ending city from Narita through Tokyo to Omiya Station. Its like Judge Dread’s Mega City One has come to life only in Japanese.

One of the nice things about riding the bus is that it gives the rider a nice view. Elaborately designed signs for pachinko parlors and love hotels wiz by when there isn’t any traffic jams. I was able to peer down into various cars on the road and discovered that about 80% of them had computer/navigation systems.

When we finally got to Omiya we took a taxi to my in-laws house. My SO had a nice conversation with the driver about Oregon… he didn’t know it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest. We rode past memorable shops, restaurants (including the family favorite sushi bar) and bike riders while navigating tiny roads that could never manage a crack-sized American SUV. After 20 minutes, we made that familiar turn next to the 7-11. Oh and by the way, 7-11s in Japan rock, they aren’t like the low class dives that peddle beer, cigarettes, and junk food in the US. After a short distance we pulled up and My SO’s parents came rushing out (in a dignified Japanese way or course) to greet us. I called out “Tadaima” (I’m Home) to be funny and the joke was received with all the attention it deserved. After the happy greetings (with no hugs) my SO’s parents tried to carry our entirely too heavy bags but I insisted on lugging the heaviest pieces.

I deftly managed to make my way inside the house while taking off my shoes and not hitting my head in the process. We sat on the floor, as there were no chairs, and tucked our legs under a low table that has a heated pit and quilt to keep everybody warm. My mother-in-law, had graciously prepared a light meal which included the best sashimi I had had in long time… come to think of it, it was the last trip to Japan when it had been this good.

We talked for a few hours, with my wife translating. At one point, while my SO was displaying the orgy of gifts we had brought from Oregon, there was a small earthquake. It was over quickly, and we turned on NHK just to be sure there wasn’t any important announcements. My Father-in-Law joked that it was Japan’s way of welcoming us.

Eventually, with all the excitement depleted, my SO and I stumbled off to bed… or maybe I should say “off to floor” for some much needed sleep.



Selba said...

A nice 1st part story, looking forward to the next one :)

Ah... no hugs in Japan? Guess what? I learnt hugging in the US! Seriously! It was on the first day during the orientation time about American life.

Selba said...

Btw, what does "SO" stand for? I believe it means wife, right?

The Moody Minstrel said...

Significant Other. It's a generic term for a romantic partner that became popular back in the 1980s because it's totally neutral.

So far so good!

ladybug said...

Well, I can't wait to hear more! You can always post the pics later...

Arkonbey said...

I'll just say that this bit made me laugh out loud:

I called out “Tadaima” (I’m Home) to be funny and the joke was received with all the attention it deserved.

You totally left us to imagine which way it was received.

For what it's worth, I thought it was a pretty good joke.

Don Snabulus said...

So what kind of stuff does a Japanese 7-11 peddle? When I was there over a decade ago, they sold Japanese junk food, hot dogs on a stick (with no breading), and had the usual complement of beverages. At that time, I enjoyed the iced coffees which had not penetrated the American market yet. My favorite junk food was fried octopus dumplings.

Swinebread said...

Selba -No hugs in Indonesia either? How can you make through the day? ☺ It’s true though, that touchy feely stuff is very western. At least we don’t kiss when we first meet like they do in France.

Btw, how long were you in the states? Sounds like an interesting story.

As for the Significant Other title, which Moody explained so well, I was trying to be gender and marital status neutral since I’m such a liberal guy, in addition to not using my wife’s name. Being straight and married, I feel, couldn’t cover every committed, loving relationship. Of course everybody now knows my SO is a woman but I’m still using it.

Moody – defiantly good! (Thanks for the explanation)

LB – I guess that’s true

Arkoenbey – my mother-in-law chuckled, my father-in-law did nothing (although he was already smiling from us showing up).

Snab – They didn’t have as much fried stuff, it was more Kamaboko (fish cake) kinda stuff and sandwiches. What I like about them is that they are much cleaner and the food fresher. Sure they still had candy bars but the place is much more inviting. Also, they have great comics and toy sections!

Selba said...

MM: Thanks for the explanation of SO.

swinebread: No hugs in Indonesia, but then sometimes (depend on) we like to give a kiss cheek to cheek when we meet with people that we've already known.

I was only 1 year in the US during my senior year in high school (1 month in Olympia, WA and the rest in a small town in KS).

What do you mean by "Being straight and married, I feel, couldn’t cover every committed, loving relationship"?

Swinebread said...

selba - well a kiss is good!

1 year is still a good time to learn a lot. I bet Olympia was a language camp.

Well SO can also cover Gay and Lesbian relationships as well as men and women are committed to each other but never got married. It is an inclusive term.

Selba said...

Bingo! You are right! Olympia was a language camp. I really had a great time there :)

Understand more about SO, thanks :)

Pandabonium said...

Sorry I'm late catching up on your catching up. Sorry your trip had a sad purpose, but I enjoyed reading about your adventures here and think it is so cool you and Moody met up at Narita.

We went to Saitama recently - by bus and train to visit a friend. There are lots of cool places there I'd like to visit. I took the express bus twice in the last week or so into Tokyo Station. Bike and bus make a great combination and take so much stress out of the travel equation - especially into the megalopolis of Tokyo.

I'll share my experiences with US customs another time - K has been harassed and searched as well, even in Hawaii(!) where there is a huge Nissei population and lots of Japanese visitors each year.

Anyway, thanks for sharing this.

Dean Wormer said...

Happy to have you back Snabby and it was great seeing you lately. You are a GREAT rpg-er.

One thing that stood out to me was your mention of Harry Turtledove. Have you read his civil war alternate history stuff and what do you think about it?

The earthquake sounded spooky. Odd timing.

Swinebread said...

Selba - I knew it! Olympia is not far from Portland. Sorry you had to stay in Kansas ;).

panda - sure thing! I understand Saitama isn't as exciting as some parts of Japan but it is a nace base for exploring the surrounding area.

dean - I'm like half interested. I've been reading his the wikipedia entries for em. Very well thought out

Dean Wormer said...

There was some guy who used to read books on the radio and I got hooked on 'em after "Guns of the South."

After a couple of books I kind of got turned off to Turtledove's alternate vision of the civil war. Although it started off with South Africans travelling through time and arming the confederacy with AK47s it quickly took a "Noble South" turn where they ended slavery on their own.

The revisionism surrounding the causes of the civil war is always a hot button with me personally. Slavery was not the only reason the southern states rebelled but it was one of the most important. I think Turtledove short-changes his readers when he plays to revisionist civil war theories.