This was initially going to be a complete post chronicling my back to Japan, two years later — I wrote this while on a flight heading to Tokyo to visit for over the Christmas and new year’s holidays in 2015-2016, and never actually bothered to continue it, because I was so busy. I figured, though, with the influx of people swinging on by to read the not-particularly-updated guide to Yokohama study abroad life, that I’d go ahead and publish what I had edited for consistency in tense, because why not. Here’s the first new content in three years; here’s another plane ride to Japan.
The Start Line
San Jose Norman Y. Mineta International Airport
10:30, Pacific Standard Time
11-hour flight scheduled for departure in an hour’s time
It was a clear day in December. Okay, I guess not that clear — clouds streaked the skyline as if to accent and frame the sky, but the sky itself was overwhelmingly blue.
Today began my first return to Japan ever since that day I “graduated,” so to speak, from studying abroad in Yokohama. This time, I’d be going with a group of friends: two who were deeply interested in the culture surrounding Comic Market, one who would be more interested in Comiket if he hadn’t recently adopted a more aggressive minimalist policy (i.e. not buying goods ever¹), and a couple who’d decided they’d hop into our airbnb accomodation last-minute. The totals: four flights, six people, a single house in Tokyo.
Thankfully, the flight this time was a lot more local: I’d be taking off from San Jose’s Mineta Airport this time, which was quite nice and convenient. Tickets were only $1,300, which was a far cry from the $2,000 the tickets were going for several weeks prior to the sale, and perhaps the best we could’ve gotten for the Christmas/New Year’s season. We’d almost sprung on a $750 flight out of LAX that would’ve required us making our own connection, but in retrospect I think we’re glad we “upgraded” to a completely nonstop flight.
After a short ten-minute delay, seating went without a hitch, and off we went. All three of us took our designated aisle seats, and off we went. The flight, which had promised Wi-Fi, had none on board. So much for the mobile gaming one of my friends was planning on doing. Drinks came out in short order, followed by a five-course meal that was referred to as “lunch dinner”. Amusingly, the attendant spoke to me first in Japanese, with which I responded in kind. A note for later: ANA’s Aromatic Kabosu juice is good stuff. I had two glasses.
After poking around the interface of the airplane’s in-flight entertainment system for a bit, writing this post up to this point, and filling out forms for customs, I took some melatonin, and attempted to sleep.
The Plunge into Darkness
3.5 hours in, 7.5 hours remaining
13:15 Hawaiian Standard Time
I got a good hour of melatonin-laced sleep in when the turbulence kicked in pretty hard and jolted me back to wakefulness. In fact, the turbulence was such that all the black screens around me flickered to life for a good ten seconds to provide the completely helpful dialog:
Despite myself, I checked my seatbelt: A-OK. I wanted to stretch, but no way that was happening any time soon.
To my left, there was a green tint coloring the windows that hadn’t been darkened by the Dreamliner’s electronic shutters. Despite it being 1 in the afternoon local time, the clouds outside the right window were dark and drab. I’d thought I’d never experience an Alaskan winter, but here I was in the thick of it.
The turbulence simmered down just a little bit, so I went to the restroom and availed myself of the opportunity to use a washlet at 38,000 feet. Peeking outside the window gave no signs of an actual aurora, but the tint was as strong as ever. I went back to my seat, and the tremors started again in earnest.
I replaced my seatbelt, and fastened it, and attempted to nap again, well-wishing that this plane would not fall apart, dreaming of the plane swaying to and fro in that one scene from Broken Saints, where young Toshi claims “God is mad.” Sorry, God, for heading over to hatsumode at a Buddhist temple, but I got some mad nostalgia to revisit, and I hope you don’t mind too much.
Hawaii Won’t Let Us Go
5.5 hours in, 5.5 hours remaining
15:30 local time
51.44″ N, 173.23″ W
I’m not sure what time zone we’re in:
So all I have to go off of is that Current Time indicator. My phone’s clock says it’s 17:36, which would imply that we’re still in Hawaii. Hawaii won’t let us go.
My eyes don’t sting as much anymore.
A cabin attendant comes out with some Bireley’s apple juice. It tastes surprisingly refreshing for being concentrate, as if culinary scientists finally figured out how to unboil an egg except for unconcentrating juice. I gulped the cup down in one go.
I asked the next stewardess what snacks were available. She led me into the rear of the cabin, where there’s a tray of neatly arranged otsumami right next to a three-by-two matrix of delicious-looking single slices of cake. I took the potato chips sheepishly while asking, “There wouldn’t be any possibility I could have one of those, too?” pointing at the cakes.
“Sorry, Premium Economy.”
“Ah, I see. Thank you.”
I think you might’ve sold me on Premium Economy, ma’am. More legroom /and/ cake? That’s putting the premium into Premium Economy.
I returned back to my seat and enjoy my potato chips, which give off the feeling of smaller, thicker Pringles. The green glow was still illuminating the left side. Appropriately, through the cracks, Star Wars Episode 1 played silently on a neighbor’s screen, Qui-Gon’s lightsaber helping temporarily with the mood lighting.
I started calculating in my head how much sleep I’d need to completely avoid jet lag. Let’s see, I had four hours the night before, and three hours broken into one and two hours respectively. I guess that works? It’s gonna be 3 when I hit, which means I’ll have to be active for nine hours…
There’s no way I’m dodging this, I thought bitterly, but I have to try. I put my phone back down and tried to continue with my sleep.
7.5 hours in, 3.5 hours remaining
15:20 local time, 12/24
I gave up on sleeping. Instead, I opted to play a bit of Chaos Rings III, since I’d never finished that game and I’d still had it on my phone and it was the largest game on my phone so I needed to finish that up. That used up a lot more time than I realized, both literally and figuratively: we’re now past the International Date Line. We’re in the future-present.
ANA apparently has a couple of “documentaries” they’ve commissioned, so, curious about their production quality, I decided to watch. This particular episode — arguably an ad in disguise for Yamato Transport’s refrigerated logistics, as well as ANA’s cargo services — was interesting enough to keep my attention.
The person next to me had been sleeping at the time Lunch Dinner was served, so a flight attendant came up to her and asked her in Japanese whether she would like to take that meal, which she declined. The attendant mentioned the next meal would be in 40 minutes. Curious, I take a look at the meal selection.
This looks pretty good, if a bit unusual for breakfast service. I like the pudding in the back. Sure beats cookies for breakfast
There’s another one, though, let’s take a look:
So what’s cacciatora? I didn’t have Wikipedia to back me up here so I ended up as one of those lost as hell millenials that can’t survive without an Internet connection. But even if I did know what cacciatora was, there’s no pudding in the picture. Makes me feel like I’m getting gypped even if the image’s a sample.
The meal cart came around and, tempted by the pictorial implication of pudding on the side, I opted for the beef stew. Not a minute passed by before the stewardess had to politely inform me that they were out — curses! It seems like Team Beef Stew didn’t get the pudding, though, so I was totally fine with this (and I got a bonus bottle of Yakult to go with it).
I still don’t know what cacciatora is², except for “tasty.”
The Last Stretch
9.5 hours in, 1.5 hours remaining
15:19 Australian time, 12/24
￼We’re some 50 miles off the east coast of Hokkaido, but apparently this is far enough away that it counts as “Australian time.”
The final, post-meal drink service had begun. It’s great because we’re rehydrating, which is nice. It’s also pretty ungreat because the cars take up the entire aisle, which means that if in the middle of drink service you think drink service might’ve done a number on you, you end up feeling pretty guilty asking the drink cart to scootch all the way back to the end.
My entire body is in some sort of alert mode: my legs hurt, my eyes could be better, and no amount of attempting to relieve sinus pressure actually alleviates it. I tried to go to the restroom to stretch again, but there’s a line for the restroom you could actually stretch in, so I make do with using the small one first, then sneaking into the big one.
Outside, the sky is cloudy and tinted at least with daylight and not aurora. We’re at less than an hour away now, so my eyes are glued to the status screen counting the minutes down.
One more thing I did before I settled in for landing: I asked two people — my seat neighbor and a stewardess — to recommend me one place in Tokyo to go eat out at. The first had no response (she normally just followed her friends everywhere). The second gave a recommendation for a place called “Rabu
“³ in Ginza, where shabu shabu is served with soba broth, so you can have some soba with your shabu. I found this extremely intriguing, so I’m adding it to the list of places I wanna eat at.
The airplane dings to notify me that we’re about to prep for landing. I brace for impact. ◆
¹ Turns out that friend bought a lot more than he thought, because how rude is it to go up to an artist and say “I love your work,” yet be unwilling to pay for it? He’s gonna be trying it again this winter.
² Turns out the “cacciatora” in chicken cacciatora means “hunter” in Italian, and is a reference to a style of cooking chicken. Thanks, Wikipedia.
³ Made with the kanji for “thin” and “pork”, but can also be a pun on the English word “love.” Highly recommended 4000-yen all-you-can-eat pork shabu, and swank as hell.