The 13 hour direct flight from Japan was amazingly comfortable and luxurious given the free upgrade from business class to first class. The best part is that my good friend Jim Sloan was the Captain on the 777 and he took me on a tour of the large cockpit where four pilots control the aircraft..
I decided to sleep for a few hours on the plane given that we were landing at 4:00 pm Tokyo time and it’s 2:00 am back home. Something has to give.
A prescribed Ambien put me to rest for seven hours and I awoke about two hours before mid-afternoon arrival in Narita and just in time for a carrot ginger soup that was very good.
Getting through customs was very quick and after picking up my Japan Rail Pass (it has to be purchased in the US then tourist status verified in Japan) I took the clean, large shuttle to the Nilton Narita hotel. The cherry trees are all blossoming and were beautiful.
(Captain) Jim Sloan and I met for dinner at his hotel (across the street from the Hilton where I was staying) and enjoyed a couple of hours visiting and catching up on our families.
After returning to my hotel I went to bed around 7:30 pm Tokyo time and took an Ambien to help me get on to Japan time. However, I awoke at 2:30 am and could not get back to sleep so I spent the next four hours in a dark hotel lobby catching up on my mail and reading. There is no Wi-Fi in the rooms here and so the choice was pay for data from my room or go to the lobby coffee shop.
I caught the hotel shuttle to the train station (at the nearby airport) at 6:30 am and commenced in my adventure to Mount Fuji. Learning about the train system was relatively easy once I made a connection or two on the system. Clearly it was a good decision to pre-purchase a Japanese Rail Pass in America as reserving a seat on the quiet and comfortable trains was a snap. The Japanese almost always want to practice their English and are the most gracious and helpful individuals I’ve met.
At one point, I could not find the escalator to my station stop so I asked an absolute stranger for help. He could not speak much English but when I pointed to my rail ticket, he walked me to the correct escalator, bowed, and left.
At another stop in Otsuki, I could not figure out how to find the connecting train to Mount Fuji and with just five hours to travel there and get back to Shinjuku; I was desperate enough that I asked a cab driver how much it would cost to have him drive me to Mount Fuji, my important bucket list objective.
He walked me from his first place, “next up” position at the cabbie stand to an open counter with attendant at the sidewalk where he tried to explain to the attendant that I needed to go to Mount Fuji and back in five hours. The attendant spoke very little English and at first I thought he was going to sell me cab tickets. He worked at his computer for a couple of minutes, asked to see my current reservations, and printed out a form. He then carefully wrote out on that form in English, as best he could, to help me understand, a schedule that would work and said it would cost 900 yen (about $11.00) each way. I willingly pulled out the money but it seemed to upset him as he pointed out to the street and said “out”.
He then gestured down the street and said one block go right. Finally it struck me that he was telling me where to purchase the tickets and it would be on a competitor’s train; not on a cab at all. In the meantime the cabbie had gone back to his cab. I thanked the attendant profusely and ran to catch my train to Mount Fuji; arriving just in time.
Japanese people operate more as a group helping each other than as individuals and are offended I found out quickly by an offer of “tips” for service of any kind. The service personnel pretty much all wear the Scarzi masks and even coffee is served with a hot, damp cotton towel to wash your hands before eating or drinking. You do not, however, use it to wash your face. That’s a no-no.
It was raining at Mount Fuji so it was not visible. However, my goal was to visit it and I did. I also visited this incredible temple with trees that created a gigantic ancient forest. The 2-3 mike walk to the temple in the rain was refreshing and I walked the streets of a very clean and beautiful city that made practical use of every square inch of land.
Every home had a small driveway and lush landscaping, often with flowers. The Japanese drive on the “wrong” side of the road and as a pedestrian you had to be careful because cars have the right-of-way; although drivers are very polite. The children always said “hello” to me in English and were very curious about a white guy walking their neighborhood.
The trip back to the hotel was about four hours and several connections but I’m learning fast. I went to bed about 8:30 pm and was “pooped” and slept for eight hours without any help from Mr. Ambien.
I woke up early again on Sunday morning, caught the first shuttle to the train station and rode to Tokyo station. After Figuring out how to actually leave the station and get outside I was amazed at what I saw. I had been expecting crowded skinny streets but what I found was well-trees wide streets of 6-8 paved lanes and office towers to compete with any modern city in America.
A cab took me to a beautiful park just outside downtown Tokyo where Japanese families, young lovers, and people traveling in groups were plentiful on a sunny weekend morning. I spent the day taking in the sights and sounds and watching the people go by.
Returning by train I spent the evening in my room, as many Japanese did, watching the Texas Rangers game featuring Japanese hero Yu Darvish pitch the Rangers to victory. The Team has become the national favorite here.
Tomorrow I leave for Beijing via Seoul.
Japan is well worth a future longer visit.