Japan, May 2005

May 12, 2005  Reston, Dulles and a long long time on an airplane.

So the day starts relatively early, and I'm buzzing like an over-tight guitar stiring. The 13 hour flight we're preparing for, and language related survival being firmly in my court this trip are combining to trigger the old travel anxiety in spades. Much worse than the last three international trips this time around, and oddly enough, it's not the flight that seems to be the trigger, but being the point man on dealing with matters once we're "in-country." In the past, I,ve been able to count on Christine's business travel experience and superior organizational skills to get us around without difficulties. But since Christine doesn't speak a word of Japanese, and I have a degree and special plaque saying that I'm really good with east Asian languages, this time the pressure's on me. Not that i'm complaining mind you. -- I've been wanting to go back to Japan for quite while, and really lookijng foreward to this trip, but that's not helping with the anxiety.

We get everything together, after I  make a last minute run to the supermarket for toiletries that will keep my long, luscious hair (or rat-tail, depending on your point of view) under control for the next few weeks. We hurriedly finish the packing, call for the cab and get on our way to the airport.  15 minutes later we're in line at the ANA first class counter --  we're gladly reaping the rewards of two years of frequent flying to the west coast on Christine's part and travelling in style. We also have access to the ANA first class lounge as we wait, so we find ourselves in a comfortable, quiet waiting area filled mostly with middle-aged japanes travellers. So I take a tranquilizer, settle into my comfy chair and pull out the first two issues of Alan Moore's Hypothetical Lizard, which is really well written and well illustrated -- Moore's work just keeps getting better if you ask me -- because in my mind I'm already in Japan's culture-space if not yet in its air-space, and in Japan, a 38 year old guy can read comics in public with nary a second glance from anyone.  I like that about Japan. After about an hour and  a half, we board the plane and settle into our oversized, fully reclining, ultra high-tech seats in the  front the plane and I try my damndest to fall asleep before take-off. I don't quite make it, but before we're far into our ascent I've dozed off and don't come fully round again 'till we've been in the air for the better part of an hour.

Soon it's time for dinner and I'm faced with my great moral dilemma -- what am I going to do about food on this trip. For the past nine years, I've been a strict vegitarian, giving in only where anchovies and the like are concerned, mainly because in Thai, Vietnamese and some Italian cuisine, it's more trouble than it's worth to determine if there really are anchovies in a given dish. Anyhow, I decided months ago that I was going to give in and eat seafood  on this trip, because it's just too difficult to avoid in Japan, and frankly, seafood doesn't make me blanche at the thought of eating it. Call me a moral relativist if you will. Besides, my latest blood sugar numbers and my slow slide into diabetes have forced me to think seriously about my vegitariansm, because blood sugar is much easier to manage with fewer carbs, and that's tough on a vegitarian diet.  So seafood is one themenu for this trip, and maybe more than that, but I start off my break from the past nine years by having the kaiseki Japanese dinner and a really delicious dry sake . The first piece of grilled salmon went in my mouth, and I was surprised to find that it was just like eating anything else has been for these past nine years. I guess I was expecting some kind of psychic shock, or hidden moral shame to rise up and make eating the first completely non-vegitarian meal in years difficult, but nothing of the sort happened. I just had a tasty multi-course meal, several glasses of that wonderful sake and sat back slept for a couple of hours, watched a couple of movies, slept for another couple of hours -- did I mention that this is a long flight? And then, the moment of truth was thrust upon me. Time for a light meal a couple of hours before landing. I ordered the niku udon. That's noodle soup with shredded pork for those of you unfamiliar with Japanese foodstuffs. That's right, I've stepped right past seafood and into full carnivore territory. I'm still wrestling with whether this makes me a bad person. Or a weak person. But at least for the rest of this trip, that line has been crossed.

 Tokyo City Hall
A bit later, quite groggy and a little worse for wear, we make our way through immigration, pick up our bags -- almost the first off the plane (the Japanese really do know how to do first class right!) -- head through customs and get to the airport shuttle to our hotel and it's neighborhood with minutes to spare, and are on our way to Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's many downtowns, and our hotel, the Century Hyatt. Almost two hours later, we're at the hotel and checking into our 23rd floor room, with a great view of Shinjuku Central Park, and the new Tokyo City Hall, an architectural mix of ultra-modernism, Notre Dame de Paris and the plaza of St. Peter's at the Vatican. But that's Tokyo for you -- the most modern megalopolis in the world.

By the time we've checked in, familiarized ourselves with the features of our room and the hotel in general, we realize that we are dead tired. Too tired, in fact to expend much effort thinking about where we're going to eat. Which is of course a problem becuase our hotel alone has eight restaurants in it. So we  force ourselves to think, just a little bit, and choose the modern Japanese restaurant down on the third floor, mainly because it has an alacarte menu, and that's easier for us to deal with in our current state of terminal exhaustion. So we have a light dinner of grilled chicken and fried potatoes for Christine and a Japanese style rolled omlette, tempura and miso soup for me, along with drinks. And after totalling it all up, we get our first bit of Japanese sticker shock when we realize that this light meal has set us back just shy of $100! After returning to the room we decide to be a little more aware of the prices before we eat anywhere else. But right now, we are tired. No, I mean tired.

But it's barely 8:30 and we want to beat this viscous jet lag as quickly as possible, so we both valiantly decide that we're going to stay awake to a reasonable hour.  So half an our later, Christine's in bed and dead to the world, and I'm dozing off in the bathtub for the third time. We tried but this day has just been too long. I dry off, stumble into bed, and am dead to the world until 3:30 am, at which point, I'm ready to face the world. Such is jet lag. I force myself back to sleep, to face tomorrow in a few more hours.




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