I am in Japan! I began booking this trip in October last year, but when you take into account the fact that I was learning Japanese at 16, this project has been in the making much longer.
So. Let’s start from the beginning.
In case you’ve ever wondered, flying on the upper deck of one of those massive two-floor long-haul planes is glorious. There’s more storage space, there’s less people, and what’s best: the side rows only have two seats, so you can get yourself a window seat while still only having to bother one person to get out and stretch your legs.
I was surprised to discover that the passengers on this Paris-Tokyo flight are easily 90% Japanese -I think I may have seen 10 soon-to-be-gaijin faces in my queue, tops. Clearly I must be travelling at the wrong time.
I began by ravaging the in-flight movie collection, as usual, by watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I loved), Cloud Atlas (which, having read the book, I thought did a pretty good job), some forgettable American comedy thing, and then I began with Life of Pi. I turned it off after ten minutes and just gazed outside the window. The cloudy view wasn’t any more riveting, but at least it was less patronizing.
After an unusually rough landing, and going through passport control (they put a sticker on my passport instead of stamping it -O tempora! O mores!), baggage reclaim and customs, I found myself finally free in Narita.
First shocker of many: so far, when I talk to people in Japanese, they respond in Japanese. That has neverhappened to me before. With the possible exception of Sawako, whom I’m meeting in 5 minutes as I write this, in London my hesitant attempts at practicing Japanese were always met with 1) bewilderment bordering on terror, and 2) English responses. I know it’s the natural response when someone speaks your language atrociously, but I don’t know -I normally let the other person choose when to switch to English.
Beginning with the desk lady at the airport’s train station, and continuing with the taxi driver in Ueno and the nice gentleman who received me at Sawanoya, addressed me in Japanese with total aplomb. Now it’s on to me to see how long I can keep it up!
Back to Narita. The first step for every tourist upon arrival in Japan is to collect your JR Pass, a painless process that just involves locating the queue and waiting in it. Afterwards, the Narita Express, which looks like it’s about to launch into space, takes you to Tokyo Station in one hour (!). That’s even more than Stansted! This is the time in which the jet lag and the twelve hours of flying catch up with you.
Once successfully connected to Ueno and, amazingly, engaged in some basic level of small talk with the taxi driver (“Ii tenki desu ne” “Sô desu ne”), I arrived in Sawanoya to discover why it’s number 1 on TripAdvisor. It’s super affordable, it’s in a quiet neighbourhood, it’s spotless, and the rooms are bigger than those of half the London hotels I’ve stayed in. It’s the control freak in me speaking, but I love that everything has instructions -so you don’t have to worry about making some unforgiveable faux pas at every step.
It remains to be seen how the futon and I take to each other, but considering how long I’ve been awake I daresay sleep won’t be a problem. I’m looking forward to discovering the neighbourhood and whether I can find my way to Ueno Station without getting mauled by a tiger from the Ueno Zoo that’s in the way. I’ll keep you posted!