The flight was like a dream. I had a bulkhead window seat with plenty of room to stretch my legs and opportunities for nice conversation with other passengers. Several passengers had small children with them, whom they would bounce around and look out the window at the land and clouds. The route started up the California coast, slightly inland, so I was able to give an appropritate goodbye to my homeland (San Diego, Davis, Sierra Nevada) and research areas (Carrizo Plain, San Andreas Fault, Wheeler Ridge).
There was a nice long meal at the beginning . On the dreamliner, there are no window shades but rather variably tinted windows. After barely sleeping (out of excitment) and some bumps (108 mph headwind!), the first sights of Japan drifted into view as a sillouette of sea-side hills.
Narita was a breeze to navigate. I had my first mind-blowing experience right before entering imigration. After forgetting to include the duration of my stay in Japan (84 days!), I was prompted to complete my form at a small desk stocked with pens. Oh man. The pens here are AMAZING. Fine tip, nice ball-point pens. Smooth.silky. wonderful. I may have promised to bring back Japanese whiskey to friends, but don't be surprised if you get pens instead. This experience repeated itself when I went to the shipping counter, the cash exchange counter, the SIM card rental counter and every place i've borrowed a pen since.
I had a few tasks to complete when arriving at the airport: shipping my larger bags to the orientation hotel, exchanging cash, buying a pre-paid SIM data card, picking up my Japan Rail pass, and figuring out how to get to my hostel. The only issue I encountered was my unlocked Iphone5 requires a nano-SD card, which the rental kiosk did not have. The young woman at the rental kiosk was very kind and helped me figure out directions to my hostel in Taito-ku. She even printed directions and a map, which turned out to be critical.
My first "holy crap I am in Japan" moment occured on the station platform of Okachimachi. It was about 8pm, dark and slightly humid and warm. The platform was lit and nearby hotels were blinking with neon lights (Princess Hotel, Hotel Richmond). After gensticulating with the ticket agent, I walked out of the station knowing the general location where my hotel was. I passed a packed yakatori stand with many hip-looking young Japanese as well as some businessmen, making it a point to get back there and sample the local flavor. Due to restlessness and exhaustian, I opted for just wandering around looking for my hostel based on the map rather than try and identify street names in Japanese characters. This worked well enough and I made it to the hostel and met up with my travel companion, Kaitlin. I showered, felt my energy was high despite sleeping only a few hours in the last 24, and we were on a soba mission.
Just a few blocks, close to the train station, we found a soba restaurant. We gesticulated with the cook to order, not realizing that there was actually a vending machine where you made your selection that printed a ticket you would then turn in for a noodle dish. He was kind and a few minutes later, cold soba noodles with hot, bacon filled soup (!!!) was ready. The noodles are dipped into the hot broth/soup/oil then eaten. Needless to say, this dish had a splash zone for the weary traveler. After we ate our fill and thanked the soba chef, we visited the "Family Market" combini. Combini are convenience stores which have a wealth of food and home items. Although I have only been here a few days, the combini are still a 15-20 minute experience, looking at all the items available and interesting snacks. Japan really is a great country for a snack enthusiast such as myself. We purchased our items, planned the next day and I promptly PTFO.
This photo has it all: Carrizo Plain, San Andreas Fault, Temblors, San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada, and clear blue California.
Where the San Andreas dives into the Pacific south of the beautiful city of San Francisco.
First glimpse of Japan!
And soba it begins.
A staple of Japanese cuisine advertising.