Arriving in Japan and First Impressions

Some quick thoughts and first impressions after landing in Tokyo! I convinced my Mom to join me for the 1.5 week Japan leg, then I trek out on my own in India and China…Pictures in the next post…

On the Japan Air plane the safety video was produced with cartoons. Have you ever seen an airplane safety video that uses cartoons and not real humans?! Shows how much cartoons are part of the culture.

Prior to landing I had to fill out a disembarkment card. It asked how much money I had in my wallet. I recognized only one of the six currency logos ($) and so I had to write in the word “yen” after 2000.

During the Narita Express train from airport to Tokyo main station my travel memories from the summer re-emerged, both good and bad. The need for water, the sweat, and confusion. The Americans suddenly becoming best friends given our common country of origin.

When the Narita Express train arrived in Tokyo, no one got up except Mom, me, and the other American from Carlsbad, CA. This concerned us. Why were none of the Japanese getting off at Tokyo? Could this really be Tokyo? I scrammbled, asked people outside the train while straddling the station and train, and then jumped off the train, hoping. It was indeed Tokyo.

After stepping into the Tokyo train station — BOOM! Hundreds of people walking super fast ALL wearing dark suits (every Japanese man I’ve seen is wearing a suit). People, people, people. Fast walking. Talking on cells. No, Europe doesn’t compare, Grand Central Station doesn’t compare. Never before had I felt so small in a massive flow of people. As one of the few white people I felt like I was walking in slow motion, and the occasional other white person walking by also felt like he was in slow motion, and we looked at each other as we passed.

After leaving the train station to walk to the hotel we found the weather predictions accurate: rain. Light rain, but steady. As we started walking the streets of Tokyo to our hotel I pondered the transformation in the last 24 hours. Here I was, in a red rain jacket, hood up, holding my backpack with my computer like a baby, wearing another big backpack on my back, sandals and socks, scurrying through a dense street, neon lights beating down on me with an intensity matching the work ethic of the businessmen, seafood scent in the air…in Japan! And only yesterday I was living the reclusive writer’s life in San Francisco!

Finally, the Japanese are extremely friendly. They rival the Portuguese in this sense. Incredible service on the plane, sweet tourist officials, and helpful non-English speaking people on the street. Simply awesome people.

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