Friday, March 26, 2010

From Plane to Futon: Day 0.5

I made it! So much happened since my last entry, I feel like that moment of my life was just a snapshot from a distant past. This is probably in part because of the endless day of travel between Philadelphia and Nagoya. I say endless because we literally chased the sun from where it rose over the Philadelphia International airport to as where I sat on the Meitetsu line traveling from the airport to Nagoya proper as it drifted below the horizon around 6:30pm (5:30am EST) Our plane traveled northwest from Chicago, over Anchorage and back down again, zipping past Siberia (though we didn't pass over it), Hokkaido, and to land at the Narita International Airport in Toyko.

As is usual with me, my Ready, Fire, Aim approach to life seriously had me skirting major lostness and frustration in my exhausted state after landing in Nagoya. But some Deity (or possibly my grandmother) was watching out for me because I had a series of incredibly good fortune coincidences that helped get me from the Nagoya airport to my hostel.

First, at Narita, Andrea, who ironically happens to live in Philadelphia, less than a mile from my house, came over and started talking with me. Turns out we had been on the same flight from Philly to Chicago and onwards to Tokyo. She's with a different company, Interac, and her and a small group of Americans and Canadians were meeting up with a guide in Nagoya to get to their training with Interac. Thankfully, they were heading for Kanayama, which is only one stop on the Meitetsu line before my stop in Nagoya central. I dramatically underestimated how difficult it would be to navigate a train system, exchange money, etc. in a totally different country, but the Interac guide let me tag along with them and even supplemented my upgrade to a first class car so I could ride with them in the same train. I am SO incredibly grateful. As tired and lost as I was after the flight, I think it would have taken me 2-3x as long to figure things out for myself, and I might have ended up going the wrong way anyway.

I am also incredibly grateful to Hatsue Ishikawa-san who I met on the plane from Tokyo to Nagoya. She and her daughter were visiting her husband in Chicago, and we spent the entire flight from Tokyo to Nagoya talking about our lives, sharing pictures etc. She also offered to get me on the proper train, but I had already agreed to follow the Interac people and didn't want to hold her up as I had needed to stop and exchange money. Ishikawa-san volunteers at a Juuku (cram school, may have the spelling romanized wrong) where she helps teach the children English. I may be volunteering there sometimes as well if that works out, which would be awesome because it would give me a chance to meet more Japanese people and get another window into Japanese culture (as well as make the learning fun, as these poor kids are so stressed).

When I got off of the train at Kanayama, I was alone again, struggling with my two suitcases--SO glad I minimized my luggage; I barely made it with the two suitcases I had. I can't imagine how I would have managed more or heavier bags. I needed to get to the taxi station, which turned out to be up a flight of stairs (no elevator or escalator). I was definitely in panic/stress mode there. There was another escalator, which led in a totally different direction, and my spacial relations were shot at that point (as were many of my higher functions due to exhaustion). I was standing with my suitcases, totally at a loss when a nice woman who looked a bit younger than me came up to me and asked in Japanese if I was okay. I said I was fine, and she asked me what was going on, and I tried to ask about another escalator but eventually gave up. Turns out she spoke English (Thank God!) and she even helped me take my carryon up the stairs so I could lug the big suitcase. She pointed me to the taxi station. I wish I had gotten her name or a photo, but I'll never forget her. She totally saved me!

The taxis here are like luxury automobiles in the US. They have white paper on the seats, are immaculate, and the cabbie wears a suit. I almost didn't get into the cab because I assumed it couldn't be a cab, but the sign said taxi (in English) so I went for it. For only 7500 yen (about $8) I got from the taxi station to the Ryokan. That was a bit of an adventure too because the cabbie didn't speak any English, I barely speak Japanese, and my address was in English. I had been given some landmarks from the website for the Ryokan/Hostel, but either I screwed them up or they weren't very helpful because both me and the cabbie were totally confused. But eventually (because google maps gives the address and phone number of your destination), he was able to locate it on his GPS and while we were driving, I had my first real conversation that was only in Japanese. And we made it to the Kyoya Ryokan.

The Ryokan is amazing! I'll let the pictures tell the story because I feel like I've been typing forever. So in quick summary, my hostel roommate Fanny (a mathematician from France who speaks English very well though she doesn't thinks she does) and I went out for Ramen at a real corner Ramen dive. (a dive in Japan is like a small, cozy, immaculate restaurant in Philly). She was also very helpful and I am very glad we got to room together since she's been here for about a month and thus knows the lay of the land. Then I took a second shower and soaked in the public bath, which was like a hot tub. Perfect end to a very looooong day.