From America into an American Bubble: The Flight to Japan

August 9, 2007. Filed under japan 44 jet 31

My roommate and I wake up at 5:00 AM in order to catch the 6:00 shuttle to the airport. This seems a bit excessive since we don't need to get to the airport until 8:30. In our defense, we are repeatedly warned that there is only one shuttle to the bus, and it only holds fifteen people. Since it only runs once every thirty minutes, and there are 40 people in the JET group, and possibly hundreds of other guests at the hotel, it seemed to make sense to leave at 6:00 AM (the calculations are not really working out so well looking back ten days later).

The shuttle dropped us off at the airport around 6:15, and we stumbled towards the Northwestern Airlines ticket counter. I was pretty sure that we wouldn't be able to check in until the representive from the travel agency who planned our trip arrived (we didn't have tickets), but it turns out that it we actually could (my group sat around and profited from watching another group try, I suppose I should be ashamed that I didn't try myself, but I just couldn't believe that we were allowed to take initiative. Doing things without explicit instruction feels like a violation of the JET program's spirit). So we got in line to check our bags, got switched into another line, and slowly worked by way up to the front. The lady helping me was not particularly happy about where she was that morning, and it showed. Standard problem prevention technique #1 (smile, make appreciativeness known, don't look impatient, look lost and confused) helped avoid any complications, although others were less fortunate ("I think they're shipping my luggage to Hawaii!"). A few minutes of standing around and the rest of my temporary crew emerges from the NWA line more or less unscathed.

A quick Atlanta Bread Company breakfast, a slow two hour wait, and we started making our way through the airport security. Compared to the quasi-epic disorganization at the NWA counter, the security lines move very quickly. I didn't overpack my laptop bag (you have to remove it for the scanner) like I did last time I flew internationally, so the overall process is mostly painless. We spend at most thirty minutes in the security lines. Arriving on the other side of the security deployment, an entire new world opened up for us: an entire new world of waiting.

I sat down with my roommate, shuffled my remaining laptop bag and carryon into comfortable positions, and realized the flight wouldn't be arriving for another two hours. Well, I can't really complain, I am mostly willing to exchange equal parts of anxiety for boredom. After a couple moments of distressing over my newly found lack of purpose, I noticed a cute girl from the night before sitting alone, and with a cringe-worthy line like "I'm going to go be socialiable", I was off. The ensuing conversation is an example of why life is worth living:

Semi-generic small talk. AD: "...small town in eastern Kentucky." WL: "Where?" AD: "". WL: "?" AD: "Yeah. We're good friends." WL: "..."

I'm glad I live in a world where this kind of thing not only can, but actually does, happen.

Conversations and conversation partners later, its time to board the plane.

Boarding a plane is something akin to walking death row and wondering if you'll receive a last minute pardon: you wander around until you find the right row, which in this case has an ever so slightly large number like 54 written on it, and then (more often than not) you realize that you are indeed in one of the worst seats on the plane: an inside seat in the middle section. Fuck. And that you're 6'4" (your mileage may vary here). Fuck. And that the person sitting to the right of you is obese and is invading half of your space. Fuck. And she insists on playing Nintendo DS the entire flight and routinely elbowing the fuck out of you. Fuck fuck fuck. To summarize, it wasn't an exceptionally pleasant flight. The one highlight was that the individual to my left, who graduated from the same school as I did a year before me, was exceptionally pleasant to talk with. And he didn't elbow me. And he stayed out of my seat.

I made some haphazard efforts at sleeping, but didn't have much success; I might have slept for an hour or so. Instead I mostly listened to music... mostly "Beauty*2" by Ladytron. Sometimes a song just sticks and it feels right. Well, it felt right, so I listened. I sometimes wish I had a record player so I could see the gradually deepening groves that would record my feelings about particular songs.

Twelve not-quite-as-long-as-expected hours later we taxied into Tokyo's Narita airport. Narita has a lot of stairs, and a lot of distance to cover between areas, so it isn't necessarily the best airport for eight hundred tired Americans carrying 140 pounds of luggage apiece. Fortunately, immigrations goes smoothly, as does baggage claim and customs. A myriad of JET volunteers in blue shirts were standing at strategic locations every twenty feet or so and pointed us in the right direction (I really want them to stop doing this one year, just to see how many people actually make it to the busses, I suspect I would be among those who would be irrevocably lost, but they could make some pretty graphs documenting the experiment, and forever prove the ineptitude of the American people). The best part of having the guiding army is that the brain could surrender itself to simply chasing a specific shade of blue. Sometimes you're not capable of a whole lot more.

The best part of leaving Narita is that they then bus us to the Keio Plaza hotel. What, the uneducated might ask, is so great about a bus? Oh, my god, its so large compared to airplane seats. After a brief pep-talk by the JET orientation assistant on the bus, I quickly fall asleep in my luxurious new bus seat. I wake up an hour later as we approach the hotel in downtown Tokyo.

I have finally arrived in Japan. Only, not really. The surrounding faces and steady current of English create an impenetrable bubble, I won't really arrive in Japan until I leave Keio Plaza, leave Tokyo, leave the cities, and arrive in Kamioka.