Saturday, October 22, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Wed., October 19, 2016, Part One

I got up at 4:30am and was leaving by 5:45. Mama-san tried to give me more food, bags, beverages but I had everything packed.  After saying “Itte mairimasu” (I’m going but coming back) innumerable times, I’m out the door and down the elevator and across the street, only to realize I forgot my watch…. I only changed my mind on what to wear once last night and took out clothing since my suitcase seemed way too heavy.  (Okinawa may be almost 90 with humidity at 90%, but by the time I get to Shizuoka and return to Tokyo on the 28th, it’s going to be in the low 60s.)  But my suitcase is still too heavy for me.  Because my laptop is heavy, I decided to pack it in the suitcase for now rather than feel like I have a broken left shoulder during the trip to the airport.  This works well, but I still almost trip over the suitcase often with its front heavy weight.  Fortunately, it’s easy to find the elevator or escalator on the train platforms which for me today makes life so much easier.  (At Narimasu station, one very nice man saw me trying to haul my suitcase up the stairs and offered to help, easily lifting it to the train platform.  Chivalry is here in Japan, too; although most men usually walk through doors ahead of women.)

On the subject of chivalry, it was extremely hot in the train this morning.  Many people had fans or were mopping their brows with a handkerchief.  From the corner of my eye, I could see the man standing just to my right side was fanning himself and, I realized, was fanning me, too.  When the door opened to allow in passengers, he would step carefully in front of me so that those coming on wouldn’t bump into me, then step back and fan himself and me.  At least that’s what it seemed like.  It was a very nice experience and it certainly helped with the rest of the trip, especially when my suitcase kept falling over on top of people’s feet.
Big buildings along the Keihin Canal on the edge of the
monorail out to Haneda Airport

For some reason I think that it wouldn’t be crowded on the trains.  Foolish me.  It’s 6:00am on a weekday and rush hour for everyone going to work, but only the beginning of the rush so after two station stops, I get to sit down.  Since I’ve done this trip out to Haneda Airport before, on Sunday, I’m really confident about where to go and what to look for.  The trip goes by a whole lot faster than it did on Sunday, with all the scenery being familiar.  I feel fortunate to be travelling on a lovely, sunny day.

Sign along the flat walking "escalator"--- not sure of its
meaning but the characters on the left (something about
the world...) are written in a unique script
Another fascinating sign:  something about the company is
developing like an onion with many layers, I think.  The
images are always what's most interesting for me.
I really enjoyed roaming through the airport terminals, especially with all the shops.  Even the airline counters and help centers are worth a look, such as the JAL Smile Support. 
I can’t image such wording or idea being presented in the US--- only Japan.  Also I love to look at (and hopefully sometimes be able to read and understand) the lighted sign advertisements along the corridors.
There's always another Omiyage (gifts) shop in case
you forgot to buy your mother-in-law, your family, or your
boss a gift.

We taxied down a runway that was over water (Tokyo Bay) for 15 minutes (of course, excellent use of what they have in a country with lots of people and very little land).  In 29 seconds we were airborne over water and Tokyo Bay.  Banking to the right to fly south along the coast, I could immediately see Tokyo spread out below and far in the distance. 

The next surprise was seeing Fuji-san in the distance!  I’m on Skymark Airlines flight to Naha, Okinawa, and we just flew over Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san)!  I had completely forgotten that we would have a chance to see it flying south along the coast.  (Also I’m fortunate to be on the starboard/right side of the plane.)  It’s such a different view from the air.  You can literally see down into the top shallow crater. 
Mt. Fuji
The top has worn down significantly since the days of those beautiful wood block print images by Hiroshige in the 19th century.  Even in summer, it usually has snow on top but maybe because it's lost height or because of climate change, there's no snow.  It’s possible that this past summer in Japan has been especially hot as today and yesterday were nearly 80--- unusual for the third week in October.

The flight is just short of 3 hours (8:40 departure; 11:50 arrival).  I’m in the middle seat and the young man to my right at the window explains that he is originally from Osaka but now lives in Okinawa.  Married and with one son (he looks to be all of 16 but I’m sure he’s in his 20s), he and his wife met in Okinawa, married there and now feel like it’s home.

The flight is a wonderful experience as the views of the islands below is ever changing with aqua turquoise water, coral reefs and lush greenness.  It resembles Hawaii in so many ways.

When we land, it takes me a while to find my friend, Caroline Latham, but even though we have changed considerably since we last saw each other (1980 or so?), we find each other right away.  Like Hawaii, she gives me a flower lei--- my first one, even after having been in Hawaii once. 
Finally in Okinawa!

Caroline Latham, a friend from my Hope College (Holland, Michigan) days, has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) here for almost 25 years at the National University in Nago (northern part of Okinawa) and also in many other East Asian countries.  She is a social extrovert who loves to talk to people and has become an enthusiastic supporter of Okinawan history and culture.  Over the next two days, I’m going to try hard to absorb everything she’s telling me!
A huge fish tank in the Arrivals area has tropical fish
local to this area and around Okinawa.  This huge one
loved to swim slowly in front of the glass, it seemed, so
visitors would take pictures.

All the fish are huge and colorful.
Once out the exit, the heat and humidity hit.  After hours of air conditioning and sitting, it’s a bit overwhelming, but finding her little mini-van and then getting in it, is the real surprise.  These cars (she calls hers a little truck) are about two-thirds the size of our mini-vans so the seats are smaller and everything is closer together.  Getting in seems a challenge after sitting for so long but riding in it is fun. 

It already feels like a long day and it's only about noon.  So more soon!

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