Ten years ago, I arrived in Japan. This was after the insanity of 9/11 and the shoe-bomber, but before the insanity of 3-1-1 containers for liquid.
I flew out on Wednesday, June 15 at 9:06am from Hartford to Detroit. In Detroit, I saw the first sign of security madness then infecting our airports. All foreign visitors were told by a TSA agent that they had to get thumb-printed before they left the country, or they might not be let back in. Paranoia as policy. I don’t think many of the guests complied.
Then again, the group I flew with on the plane disregarded the fasten seatbelt sign except when we were taking off and landing. A combination of turbulence, food, and lack of sleep made me as close to plane sickness as I’ve ever come.
We were scheduled to land at 4:25 pm (12:25 am Seattle time), and I believe we landed pretty close to that time. Customs was a breeze (as it usually is for me), but I had trouble finding my contact person, who was supposed to be holding a NOVA sign. His name was Dan, and he had a bald head. Others joined us, including a young husband and wife with gear that made me think they were traversing Mt. Fuji straight from the airport. I also witnessed two friends meeting at the airport, both female: one Japanese, one American. If I had to guess, I’d say they were high school age, and the Japanese girl was so happy that her friend was here in Japan. I saw other reunions, too, but between Japanese men and women.
I received a packet of information at the airport, which included a phone card, preloaded with 500円. I couldn’t get to work, so I used the computers at the terminal and sent an email to everyone, telling them I had arrived.
What followed was a long train ride from Narita Airport to my new address in Musashi Koganei. Along the way, our group got smaller, until it was only me and Dan. When we exited Musashi Koganei Station (after transferring to another line, which I later learned was the Chuo), a light drizzle greeted us. Dan used his cell phone once outside the station to make sure we were going in the right direction. My bags slowed me down, and I stopped often along the way. We also stopped at a convenience store, so that I could buy some food. The husband of the husband-and-wife team at the airport had told me that the Japanese will change any denomination, and indeed, they changed my 10,000円 bill (roughly $100) for food that couldn’t have cost more than ten bucks. Afterwards, Dan congratulated me on my first transaction in Japan.
I wouldn’t meet my roommate until the following morning, so I spent a lonely night in my new room, with nasty Japanese mosquitoes. It was in a place called Birdland Koganei, reachable only by four flights of stairs.
I didn’t know it then, but at 26 years old, I was about to embark upon the greatest experience of my life.