Juxtaposition in Japan

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Narita, Japan, Part I

The first time I was in Narita was during the late summer of 2015. It was an unexpected trip that I will never forget even though I was only there for about 4 hours.

My husband Steve, my daughter Coral and I went to Tokyo for a very brief trip (approximately 24 hours). My daughter and I were flying standby and when we were ready to board the plane to fly back to Seattle, there was not enough seats. My husband was working the trip, so he had a seat and there was only 1 seat left, so my daughter went with him. This was one of the biggest fears that I have had up to this point in my travels with him while he is working: being left behind in a strange place.

There was another flight to LA that I ran to try to catch. Haneda airport is multileveled so I had to run up stairs with my luggage, across a large room and then run down the stairs to the other gate. I got there just before they closed the gate, but they were also full. Those were the last flights of the night, it was close to midnight. I was absolutely stunned. I did not expect this to happen and neither did my husband. He texted me before his plane took off and I can tell he felt terrible that he left me  behind.

The gate agents, with whom I could barely communicate with, kindly escorted me back through customs where my passport had to be stamped ‘Not Departed’. Then they walked me back to the ticket counter to get me booked for the following day. Unfortunately, the airline I was on did not have any flights available at that airport for several days, so I was booked on a flight out of Narita, which is about an hour and a half away from Haneda.

Having no back-up plan, I asked where the nearest hotel was. Luckily for me, the Haneda airport has a hotel connected to it and I was able to get a room. It was so late that the restaurant was closed (and I felt that at that point I deserved a glass of wine) so I walked back through the airport and found a restaurant that was still open and ordered a soup and some wine.

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I admit that I took some sleeping pills that night because I knew that I would stay up worrying if I did not knock myself out.

The next day, I checked out of the hotel and figured out how to catch a bus to the Narita airport. They have shuttle buses between the two airports, and luckily the airlines have counter people who speak very good English. I found the correct bus and boarded. Now, I am not much of a community transit rider. Generally I get very nauseous on bus rides and I avoid them as much as possible, but then again, an airport shuttle bus is a stark contrast to the public buses in the Puget Sound region. So, it was really very brave of me to hop aboard, but, not really.

Upon arrival to Narita airport, I had a few hours before my flight. I walked around a lot. I walked in circles (because the gates are circular). I was so stressed out that I was sweaty. I was still flying standby, the airport was crowded, the Seattle flight was full and I had to switch to the Detroit flight.

I got a seat on the Detroit flight and caught a connection to Seattle. Total fly time of 20 hours (not including the 2 hours in Detroit). I was absolutely exhausted and did not have fond memories of Japan because all I remembered was the stress of the return trip home.

Narita, Japan, Part II

My husband and I have been planning a dive trip in Palau for several months. Our connecting flights were through Narita, Japan. Our plan was to stay in Narita for 3 nights and then fly down to Koror and stay on two different islands for a total of 8 nights. Of course, we are flying standby the entire trip.

Leaving Seattle, the flight was oversold, but we thought we would still both get on since we know a lot of people don’t show up for flights.  Waiting at the gate, after everyone boarded, the agent informed us there was only 1 seat available. I astonished myself by asking my husband if I should take it and he would follow the next day or find an alternate route to meet me there. He said, ‘go for it, Babe!’ and I got on the flight. I do not know what got into me. Here I was, intentionally flying solo to Japan where it could take him a day or more to get a seat and meet me there!

So, there I am flying across the ocean, listening to audiobooks, trying not to stress out about what was going to happen when I got there. At least I had a hotel pre-arranged and I know I could taxi there. I did not get much sleep on the flight. It was over 10 hours flight time, but I kept myself occupied.

Once I disembarked, I got through customs quickly, found an ATM to get some cash, and found a taxi. About a half hour later, I arrived at the hotel in downtown Narita and checked in.

Their restaurant was closed for a private party (why me?), and I was famished, so although my plan was to hibernate in the room, I had to get a map from the hotel clerk and walk about 1/2 mile to a nearby restaurant.  After that ordeal, I felt some sake was in order, so I had some hot sake with my vegetable soup and fried spring rolls.

Steve had already texted me to say he couldn’t get any other flights out that night or find any connections that looked hopeful, so he was just going to try to  catch a flight the next day.

I walked back to the hotel and hunkered down to sleep and wait for Steve’s arrival. Due to the time differential, I woke up super-early and knew that I would go crazy if I didn’t find something to do.  I did a 40 minute yoga practice in the hotel room. There wasn’t much space as the bed was literally 2-1/2 feet away from the wall and when I reached my hands up to the sky they would touch the low ceiling, but I was able to modify the sequence to get in a decent practice without hitting the wall too often.

Steve let me know he boarded the flight, so I knew he would be there in about 10-12 hours. Looking out the window, I could see it was a beautiful sunny day so I decided to walk up to a park a little over a mile away that had several culturally significant temples located in it.

Google maps activated on my phone, I started out.  Google  disagreed slightly with a local map the hotel gave me, but I decided to follow it just to see where it led me. I walked down a hill and then, following the blue line on my phone, turned left and started walking up a winding, single lane road that wound up a steep hill. At the top of the hill, the road went by a large graveyard. I stopped to look and walked through it tentatively.

The grave markers were literally stacked on top of each other and faced every possible direction. They seemed to be like small family plots with several markers on each spot. Incense had been burnt at each plot and flowers and plants had been lain at many of the stones.

I walked down each little maze of fake grass paths that had been laid down between the plots had looked at the various stones and statues. There was such a mix of old and new. Small and large. Decorated and plain. I was really in awe of the attention that had been given to each marker. It was really beautiful and thought-provoking.

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Later, reviewing these pictures, that is when I realized that they were the theme of my spontaneous solo voyage to Japan. The juxtaposition of the old and the new. The old me who was scared of being alone in a foreign country on my first trip to Asia was very different than the new me who appreciated the time I had alone to wander at my own pace and take the time to follow my own agenda without distraction of a travel-mate.

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I have more stories to tell of my time in Japan, I went to the temples which were very beautiful and I have some great pictures to share. Steve did join me eventually and we had a great time exploring parts of Narita. Right now we are at the airport waiting to board our flight to Koror, so these tales will have to wait until the next installment of the adventures of TravelingYogiBear.

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My lucky travel socks that accompanied me on my solo 24 hours in Japan.

 

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