The Bayporter Express shuttle arrived 10 minutes earlier than the
agreed upon time of 8:45 AM to take us to the airport. The driver had another
scheduled pickup close by - a visiting UCB professor from the UK. He made
one more stop down in Berkeley before heading out across the bridge. The
traffic was thick but our driver knew all the shortcuts, and being able
to use the commuter lane cut at least half an hour from the trip.
As we rode, we had a lively conversation. The professor had swapped
houses with another professor who was visiting the UK at the same time.
Unfortunately, while the Oakland Hills is a nice place to live, it is not
the most convenient place to be without a car. He studies the biochemistry
of plant photosynthesis. He remarked on the energy crisis in California
and our topic quickly drifted to alternative sources of energy. I brought
up the Arcosanti Project
and how they are using architectural orientation to maximize natural energy.
The airport was crowded when our shuttle arrived. We had over an
hour to kill. After checking in, we hit the bookstores in the airport to
get some last-minute reading material. I picked up another Tom Clancy Op-Center
book (Mirror Image) and Randy picked up a couple of Japanese tour
books, including a Japanese phrase book. The air traffic was busy this
morning. We sat in queue for a seemingly interminable amount of time before
it was our turn for takeoff.
Shortly after liftoff, we were served drinks, then lunch. My favorite
drink on airplanes is Spicy Tomato Juice with no ice which turns out to
be a Virgin Bloody Mary sans celery. Randy had the special seafood selection
for lunch. I had the normal fare which was teriyaki beef. I worked on the
web pages during the flight and quickly burned through two batteries. I
watched two of the three featured movies – The Titans starring Denzel
Washington and Disney’s The Kid. The other movie that I skipped
was Bedazzled. I saw it when it came out in the theatres and a couple
more times on other United flights. I was not psyched to see it a fourth
time! Randy spent the entire time listening to DAT tapes or sleeping. 12-hour
flights tend to drag on forever. I filled the gaps in-between movies and
web pages with my current Tom Clancy Op-Center book, Divide and Conquer,
and occasional breaks to walk laps around the plane. This plane -
a 747-400 - seemed smaller than the one I took for my last international
flight, but it might be because the curtains to the Business Class were
closed so I could not cover that portion as part of my walking route. It
made for more laps to get the swelling out of my ankles!
Flying over Tokyo, I notice that the coast was lined with plots of
farmland. At this time of year, we could only see the brown earth, bare
of vegetation. We landed in Tokyo right at the scheduled time at 3:35 PM
JST or 10:35 PM PST. It was a relief to get off the plane. The plane had
stopped in the middle of the airfield. We were herded onto a shuttle bus
for the ride to the terminal. I noticed that all the workers out servicing
the plane were in distinct uniforms, including the plane maintenance technicians
and the cleaning ladies clustered at the foot of the plane waiting for
the passengers to finish departing. We picked up our bags and breezed through
customs, then made our way to the limousine bus stand to get our tickets
to the Akasaka Prince Hotel. After finding out what the fare was, we tried
getting money from a Money Exchanger, but they did not take credit cards.
Instead, we were pointed to some ATM’s at the other end of the terminal.
The only ATM that would take our bank card was the American Express one.
The Citibank ATM refused to recognize my cards as valid, despite having
several of the right banking network logos (little did we suspect, but
this was going to be a continuing problem throughout our trip!).
Waiting at the airport bus stop, cigarette smoke assaulted us from
all sides. Painted lines on the ground guided passengers to form a single
line to enter the bus. It was the longest bus ride I could remember in
recent memories – a full 2-1/2 hours from Narita Airport to the Akasaka
Prince in Tokyo. Even though it's not that far from Narita to Tokyo, traffic
was quite heavy, and once inside Tokyo city limits, we moved at 20 MPH
or less until we disembarked. Through the windows of assorted skyscrapers
lined up against the 'expressway', we could see rows and rows of people
working at their desks. Most desks were lined in straight rows with workers
facing one another. In other arrangements, as many as 5 people were clustered
around a circular table. It was against every rule of ergonomics in the
book! On the streets, pedestrians strode about with face masks. Cabs and
cars-for-hire lined the sidewalks. I noticed that each and every truck
and car that went by was sparkling clean. I did not see a single dirty
car all the way to the hotel.
We were even more thankful getting off that bus than we were getting
off the plane. Did I already mention it was a LOOONG bus ride? Upon checking
in, we noticed a sign that mentioned you have to request a special room
to get an outgoing phone line for computers. And they were all out when
I asked! After a bit of dickering, the reservations manager on duty agreed
that they would transfer us to one of these rooms as soon as it was possible.
Our first room was on the 25th floor. The room was spacious and designed
in late 60's space age bachelor pad decor! Everything was white and sculptured.
A couch wrapped along the window. The controls for the lights and air conditioning
and tv and so on were embedded in the night stands. Randy noted that a
sign above the phone in the bathroom read “In case of emergency, please
pick up the phone. Operator will respond in 40 seconds”. We were not
sure what kind of toilet emergency would require prompt operator intervention,
but we were glad that they had an operator standing by! Maybe they saw
the Ally McBeal episode where she got her butt stuck in the toilet and
had to have the firemen come and hammer her out.
As tired as we were, we ventured out in search of food. The first
day of an international trip is always the toughest, because if you don't
stay up, you won't get past the jet lag. The concierge pointed us to a
sushi place in the area of shops near our hotel, but we could not find
it. Instead, we stopped at a random sushi bar that had no English words
anywhere. But if there is anything we know how to say in Japanese, it’s
the names of the sushi pieces! Thank God for that! Futotsu anago nigiri
After dinner, we were both thankful to hit the sack, looking forward
to another day tomorrow.