Keep up with the addict

“Day” 0: 13 March to 15 March 2009

Well, things really are not settling down around here as I had hoped they might; so, I figured that I should start posting about my trip to Japan before the whole thing became but a distant memory.  So much has happened since I’ve been back, in fact, that it’s honestly hard for me to believe that three weeks ago I was in Japan.  I digress…

You may currently be puzzling over the title of this post, so I’ll explain: I’ve decided to tell you all about my trip to Japan in a day-by-day type of narrative.  Each post will be headed by the day number and the date.  This first post, however, is a bit different than the rest.  This post will cover the topics of traveling to Japan and our first night in Japan; thus, the quotation marks around the word ‘day’ because the period covered is much more than a 24-hour time period and the ’0′ designation because I treat this time as pre-proper-vacation time.

I also want to apologize beforehand for the egregious length of this post.  Now that that is out of the way, onto the story…

Andrew and I purchased our airline tickets using credit card reward points and airline mileage account miles.  Because of this, we ended up having to fly out of LaGuardia Airport instead of Philadelphia International Airport.  This meant that we had a bit of a journey (about two hours worth) ahead of us before we would even be able to get on the plane.  Our flight out was at 8:03 a.m., meaning we had to get to the airport between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m..  Ultimately, we decided to rent a car, drive up the night before and stay in a hotel near the airport.  In hindsight, the problem with this plan was that we went to work on Friday and, consequently, (after a stop for dinner and some confusing navigation issues) didn’t arrive at the hotel until about 11:00 p.m., exhausted.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – LaGuardia Airport.

Euan was exhausted, too.

The room was fairly nice.  It had a big, comfy king-sized bed and a flat screen TV.  It was unfortunate that we had to leave it in a little less than 6 hours…

I had trouble sleeping and didn’t get to sleep until sometime after 1 o’clock.  We woke up at 4:30 a.m. and were checked-out of the hotel by 5:00 a.m..  We drove the rental car back to the return location, which turned out to be quite far from the airport terminals.  Luckily, they provided a shuttle bus that got us to the correct ticketing hall in no time and the driver was even kind enough to help with our ridiculous amounts of luggage.

The next hurdle to overcome was ticketing.  The automated ticketing system gave me some issues but luckily an exceptionally pleasant woman (for 5:30 in the morning) was close by to help me out.  Turns out they had to verify that I knew whose miles were used to purchase my flight…  The security process that came next also moved quite smoothly and quickly.  Andrew and I grabbed some breakfast at the Au Bon Pain in the terminal.  I love their Cinnamon Scones!!

Then it was onto our connecting flight to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.  I attempted to knit while on the plane but I just couldn’t concentrate.  Euan offered to take over for me, though…

Once we arrived at Chicago O’Hare, we decided we better get something to eat before having to board the plane for the long flight to Japan.  The only problem was making a decision about where to eat.  We ended up at the Chili’s Express.  Unfortunately, they happened to be understaffed and overly crowded that day.  Our food took forever to arrive but turned out to be quite tasty.  I had the BBQ Ranch Chicken Sandwich with French Fries.  Then it was off to wait for our flight to board.  The terminal was a bit sunny and we were tired…

(That’s Andrew, for those of you who don’t know…)

The wait didn’t actually turn out to be that long but getting on the plane was a bit of a hassle.  Why, you may ask?  There was a massive group of Canadian high schoolers (I’m assuming they were high schoolers) also taking the same flight and they were standing in a gigantic mass in front of the gate, blocking access for all the passengers that were going to be boarding before them.  Andrew and I did manage to squeak by in front of them so we could board before those members of the mob who had the same boarding zone as we did.  As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the last time that we saw them…

The flight itself was, thankfully, uneventful if a bit longer than I was really prepared for.  Also, my seat would not stay in the upright position and my headphone jack gave off this loud high-pitched tone during the programming and so I couldn’t really listen to the audio for any of the movies.  I also couldn’t fall asleep.  In fact, I’m rarely able to sleep on planes, which is very odd to me considering how I’m able to fall asleep in a car on any trip that takes more than 20 minutes.  Thankfully, Euan was kind enough to help me out with the required customs form…

Once we arrived at Narita International Airport, the walk to the immigration desks was quite long but the process itself took no time at all – hand over your paperwork and passport, get digitally fingerprinted, get your picture taken, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp (the Japanese love their stamps!!), done!!  Next, we had to wait for the baggage, while trying to avoid the mob of Canadian high schoolers…

Once our baggage finally came around and were loaded onto our luggage cart, I turned to see the following sight:

It was at that moment that it really hit me that I was actually in Japan.  The uniformity of the distinctly Japanese suitcases, neatly lined up awaiting their owners, speaks volumes about Japanese culture.  They simply scream Japan.  Anyway, it was off to customs where we were asked a series of useless questions that make everyone involved feel better about security but have no real purpose.  After a quick stop off at the currency exchange counter to pick up some yen, it was off to buy tickets for our trip on the Narita Express. Here is a photo of the entrance to the train:

The ticket counter is off to the right there.  It was on the way to the ticket counter that I spotted my first Japanese vending machine of the trip:

(I apologize for the horrendous-ness that is this photograph;  I was in a rush to make the next train…)  I have a fondness for Japanese vending machines that I simply cannot express in words.  Why that is, I just don’t know.  Anywho, this particular vending machine offered a selection of both cold and hot drinks.  I picked up a bottle of hot milk tea for the train ride.  Wonderfully delicious…

The train ride from the airport into Tokyo station took about an hour.  During the trip, I purchased and ate the one and only onigiri I had while in Japan from the snack lady that came by with her cart full of goodies.  It was very Harry Potter-esque…  The ride flew by for me as I watched the scenery whip past – moving from country and agricultural views to urban sprawl.

Andrew’s parents, with whom we’d be staying for the duration of our trip to Tokyo, met us on the platform at Tokyo Station and herded us and our baggage to the correct platform for getting a train to Tamachi Station, which is the station near which they were living.  Once we got back to the apartment and got a bit settled in, we decided to order some dinner from Domino’s pizza.  Pizza in Japan is distinctly Japanese and also quite expensive.  After some deliberation, we ended up ordering one corn pizza and one pizza with half corn and onion and half “fresh bacon” (which turned out to be pancetta) and mayonnaise.  The latter half of the second pizza was especially for me.  I just had to try some pizza topped with mayonnaise at it is a very Japanese concept.  The results were quite, quite tasty – absolutely delicious in fact.  Even Euan tried to sneak a bite.

I, of course, needed to follow up my first meal in Japan with a proper dessert.  After all, at least 1/3 of this trip was about getting to consume lots of good food and drinks.  So, where did we head for dessert?  To the Lawson Station on the first floor of the apartment building, of course.

I will admit that I have a mild obsession with Japanese conbini (the Japanese term for convenience stores).  They carry an amazing array of goods from magazines to toiletries to prepared foods to video games to alcohol to tickets for events and attractions.  Many are open 24 hours.  I also happen to love a lot of the prepared foods they carry.  This particular conbini was on the smaller side but, as is to be expected, their drink and prepared food selection was still impressive.

There was also another wall of drinks, located behind me while I took this photograph, where all the PET bottle drinks are kept.  As if that weren’t enough, they also have a bakery section that is stocked daily.  In my opinion, this is one of the best sections of any conbini.

As with most stores in Japan, we probably weren’t supposed to be taking photographs inside the store but we were just too excited…  Not surprisingly, Andrew and I would be visiting this particular conbini on an almost daily basis for the remainder of our trip.  As you might imagine from the photographs, I was a bit overwhelmed by the choices presented to me for my dessert selection.  What should I eat first?!  I ended up with a cream filled waffle sandwich and a cold coffee and milk drink.  They were both superb.  After dessert and some planning for the next day, it was off to bed at about midnight.  I slept really well…  if not for very long…