Get up and put on a pot of water for a big cup of tea. Then sit down and start reading. That way you’ll be distracted in five minutes, and then you’ll be able to finish reading whilst sipping a nice warm cup of tea.
This takes up eighteen pages in my journal.
It took me altogether too long, but I finally worked up the courage to ask and was directed to ticket booth for the highway bus. It turned out to be on the north side of Shizuoka station, and I’d been searching the south side for about fifteen minutes. This was a relatively accurate presage of what I could expect during my impending trip to Tokyo.
My friend Mr. Blond was arriving at Tokyo’s Narita airport two days later, and given the expense involved in my last trip to Tokyo, I wanted to make the getting-there-and-back portion as affordable as possible. The highway bus would take 3:40 to get there—compared to 1:30 on the Shinkansen—but it cost me less than half as much as a round trip ticket. Besides, compared to annual three-day drives to Winnipeg in my childhood, four hours was nothing.
I boarded the bus at 9:30 on Tuesday morning, and it passed through a sort of ticket booth as it approached the highway. All the highways here require toll payments, and it costs about as much to drive to Tokyo as it does to take the bus.
Mt. Fuji rose and sank in and out of view as we went up and down hills and highway ramps, but near the town of Fuji, it was spectacular. Despite the warmth of the region—it was about 12 degrees Celsius when I left—nearly a third of the mountain was covered in snow, while a ring of cloud marked the line where pristine white gave way to greens and browns. That mountain just has indescribable power. Searching for words to describe it, I wrote that the heavy mass of the peak seemed to be nestled in cloud like some kind of sleeping storm god.
Yet again, I foolishly brought things to do during the trip when the landscape was more than enough to hold my attention. I only reached for my notebook when I considered that I would likely forget something important if I waited until later to write it down.
I got to see the ocean for a bit, which wouldn’t seem like a treat to someone from a port town, but I rarely see it from where I live. It was very calm, with a texture like thick, rough watercolour paper, shining a shade of royal blue that I thought was impossible for water to attain.
Even the tunnels were entrancing. As we bored through the mountains, I could see out the front windshield of the bus to get a glimpse of the upcoming vistas; but rather than feeling that we were bursting out upon them, as we emerged it seemed more that the landscape swallowed us up as more mountains rose before us and valleys dropped away on either side.
I couldn’t believe the way those gorgeous little valleys would appear without warning, apparently of their own accord, as much as a hundred feet below. They would be filled with as many buildings as they could support – sometimes enough to make a small town, sometimes none at all, and once I saw a single line of buildings perfectly filling a little crag between two hills. It must have been incredibly difficult to build any kind of national transportation system in this country.
Impressively, even after navigating Tokyo traffic, it did indeed take us almost exactly 3:40 to get to Tokyo station. I’ve since been told, however, that I was very lucky not to get held up.
I then had to figure out how to get to Narita Airport, and after characteristically waffling about, I finally inquired at one of the many Japan Rail (JR) ticket counters. Even determining which terminal I wanted to go to was a struggle, as Mr. Blond had neglected to tell me the terminal he’d be arriving at or the airline he was travelling with, and a phone call and a process of elimination were required. I then told the clerk I wanted to go to Narita by the cheapest means possible, and since I didn’t know the Japanese word for “terminal”, I held up two fingers and said in English, “Terminal Two.”
I was given two tickets for Terminal One.
By the time I noticed the problem, I was too disillusioned with my communicative abilities to go back and try to rectify the situation. In my own defence, I’d thought one of them was my fare ticket, like the one I’d used to take the Shinkansen when I’d first arrived in Japan.
There were quite a few other gaijin on the platform, and when the train arrived in two parts, I wasn’t the only one to be noticeably confused. First, two cars trolled through the station and stopped at the far end of the platform to let out passengers. A few minutes later, the rest of the train arrived and stopped at the other end to do the same, and then the two sections joined together and people started to get on. I had what was clearly a non-reserved ticket, but all the cars were labelled “reserved”, so I walked down the length of the train in search of a non-reserved car. Just as I was about to ask the conductor if I was in the right place, he got on the train, the doors closed, and it left.
I had thirty minutes to wait for the next train. I still wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t find anyone I could ask who wasn’t already occupied with something, so I just determined that I would get on the next train no matter what. I took some comfort when I noticed that another gaijin had a ticket that looked similar to mine.
When the next train arrived, I sat down at the front of the car where I could see a map of the route to the airport. I noted with little surprise that the Japanese word for “terminal” is, in fact, “terminal.” Japanese people think “McDonald’s” and “Maku-donarudo” are the same thing, but unless you say “Maku-donarudo,” they have no idea what you’re talking about.
When a man came by to take my ticket, I diffidently handed him one of the two in my possession. He got a little confused and asked me for my other ticket, which I handed him, and which proceeded to confuse him more. He asked me if I was alone. I said yes. He told me I had two of the same ticket. I said yes, I knew. I tried to explain what had happened, and he fiddled with my tickets in his electronic keypad in an attempt to adjust my fare, but he eventually gave up and gave me the impression that it would just be better for me to deal with it at the other end.
While waiting for Mr. Blond’s plane to arrive, I gawked at the large number of gaijin walking around the airport. I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place, or perhaps that they were out of place. I wanted a sign on my back that read, “Resident Gaijin” just to distinguish myself from the rest.
I watched what looked like the entire World Cup downhill ski team come through the gates while Mr. Blond took an hour to clear immigration. He appeared just as I was getting seriously concerned that I’d somehow missed him.
As a result of my fevered hotel search two months ago, I’ve accumulated a good quantity of phone numbers for hotels in Tokyo, which I put to good use. But I only really remembered the station from which I’d started searching, not the one closest to that particular hotel, and I didn’t recall exactly where I’d wandered while checking out every hotel in between. By the time I realized I was turned around 180 degrees, I’d taken us almost all the way back to Tokyo station. The good news was, we figured out how to walk to Tokyo station from the hotel. The bad news was, Mr. Blond was tired and jet-lagged and I’d just dragged him about a half-kilometre in the wrong direction with all his luggage on his back because I didn’t know Tokyo above ground any better than he did.
After a short rest in the hotel, we headed out for some food, and I decided I wanted to eat at a tempura place we spotted around the corner. I’ve been in Japan for four months, and I’ve had tempura only once—and it was cold. The special advertised out front looked great, but I didn’t know how to read one of the kanji in its name, and I was considering what words I knew that I could possibly use to describe what I wanted when the lady behind the cash register came out and pointed to the picture, asking me if that was what we wanted. I should have thought of that.