Sunday, 05 February, 2006

Japan Again

A 15 hour time change really messes with the mind.  I got up at 4:30 Saturday morning in Austin to catch my flight to San Francisco.  I arrived at my hotel in Tokyo at 6:30 Sunday evening--about 3:30 Sunday morning, Austin time.  It's 10:000 PM now and my body thinks it's 7:00 AM.

The trip from Austin to San Francisco was uneventful except for a particularly odious person sitting near me.  I'll just say that I found his conversation offensive and I was happy to have ear plugs.  Saying, "these things really take the edge off," while stuffing an ear plug in your ear is an effective way to avoid conversation without giving offense.

My seat mates for the 10-1/2 hour trip from San Francisco to Narita were a very pleasant older couple from Houston who were headed for Manila to attend two reunions:  her 45th high school reunion and his family reunion.  He was asleep most of the way, so she and I shared a friendly conversation when I wasn't up roaming the aisles.

I hate sitting in one place for that long, especially when I'm trapped against the bulkhead next to a window out of which I can see only cloud cover or, if the clouds clear, the Pacific Ocean.  The ocean might be teeming with life, but from 35,000 feet it might as well be a barren wasteland.  Even large ships are hardly noticeable at that altitude.  I usually pass a large amount of the time by wandering the aisles.

I brought my bean bags this time and stood at the back of the plane, juggling.  This is a great way to strike up a conversation, and I got to meet a number of different people:  a Korean woman whose husband works for the U.S. State Department, a games programmer from Tokyo, and several people whose homes and destinations were unknown to me but with whom I shared a few words.  Boredom is contagious on those flights, so people often are more than willing to talk about almost anything.

The fastest and easiest way to get from Narita airport to most places in Tokyo is the Narita Express.  Board the train at the airport and in under an hour you're stepping onto the platform at Tokyo Station.  From there you can catch a subway train to anywhere in Tokyo.  The problem is the cost--about $30 U.S.  There is a much less expensive way, but it takes longer and can be confusing for the uninitiated.

Take the Keisei Limited Express from the airport bound for Ueno, but get off at Aoto Station and transfer to the train bound for Oshiage.  From Oshiage you can catch the subway to anywhere in the Tokyo metro area.  You also can go all the way to Ueno and catch a subway there, but it's much easier to get to the station by my hotel from Oshiage than from Ueno.  Total cost for the trip was about $12.  The drawback is time.  The Limited Express makes a dozen or so stops.  This route takes about 30 minutes longer than the Narita Express and carrying luggage through the subway stations isn't a whole lot of fun, but it's not $20 inconvenient.

If you decide on the less expensive route, you should get a map of the stations in the outlying areas.  Although the Tokyo Subway Map shows all of the stations that are on the Metro network, it only shows the major stations between here and the airport.  If you don't have a map of the stations outside of the Metro area, you're going to be a bit confused.  The people in Japan, however, are incredibly friendly and willing to help a bewildered foreigner find his way.  Often I didn't even have to ask:  somebody would see me looking confused and offer assistance.

Voice chat, by the way, is a great way to stay in touch when you're overseas.  I installed Yahoo Messenger with Voice on my machine and on Debra's, and we agreed on times to attempt conversations.  10:00 PM in Tokyo is 7:00 AM in Austin, so it works out well.  I should have thought of this the last time rather than relying solely on email for communication.  I know that there are other, and perhaps better, VOIP solutions, but Yahoo Messenger works well enough for our purposes.

Postings will undoubtedly be spotty later in the week, as I might be without Internet connection Tuesday through Thursday.  Time for bed.