Chasing The Sun, Again: An Excerpt From Mattie’s Notes App Two Years Later

Of course I went back.

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 Double-Take at the Left-Hand-Side Steering Wheel

Unlike the rest of my peers back home who are currently enjoying their winter breaks, my break lasted just about two weeks. This is because fall semester at YNU starts in October and ends in mid-February. It’s roughly the same period of time spent studying, except set up so that the spring semester doesn’t start at the end of January — it, instead, actually starts in springtime, at the beginning of April.

Unfortunately while I was partying it up in Tokyo like crazy (as people came to visit and I wouldn’t get to see them for another seven months, at least!), I caught the season’s flu two days before my return to school, and it manifested itself in several ways over the first week back, culminating in my first absence from a class on a Friday morning. Thankfully, the weekend allowed me plenty of time to rest and recuperate, and now the symptoms are all but gone…except for one heck of a sore throat and — I’m gonna blame this on the illness — a messed-up circadian rhythm.

So here I am, playing games on my computer when suddenly hunger calls. I’d just finished off the bag of rice that’d lasted me through the past month and a bit, and my only pot was currently full of oil, having been used as a deep-fryer for karaage. I decided I’d just get a bento from the 24-hour bento place in the neighborhood, because it’s cheap, fast, fresh, and filling, and not in the Western fast food kinda way. (An aside: twice-cooked Szechuan pork stir-fry is amazingly delicious and I need to learn how to make it.)

As it turns out, it’s on the other side of the shopping street, across the river. That was fine by me, and the walk to and from the place was actually sort of refreshing.

It was on the way back that I saw a car, engine active, straddling the side of a parking lot like the lot was full and it decided to just block the lot in protest. Inside the car was a single man sitting in the front, left-hand-side of the car, with one of his hands on the steering wheel waiting expectantly.

Wait a minute, I thought.

Wait just a damn minute.

I tried to remember how the insides of cars looked back home. It was sort of surreal, that moment: no matter how many times I conjured up the inside of a car, driver’s side on the left, my mind was asking are you sure that’s how it was? Only while waiting for the crossing light on the main road did I confirm by means of the cars speeding by: yes, cars in America do have steering wheels on the left side of the vehicle, and drive on the right side of the road, and cars in Japan have steering wheels on the right side of the vehicle and drive on the left side of the road. Which means that car I’d passed was perhaps imported from America or some other place with left-side steering wheels.

What blows my mind is how long it took me to confirm that; and the fact that it took just about three months to get to this point. That was a bit weird.

I guess for the time being I’ll blame that, too, on the flu… ◆

On Starting the Weekend with Transit Issues

It was the end of the first week of December.

Japanese announcements were blaring from the intercom. We stood there, slightly speechless, staring at the electric sign that should’ve been lit up with details on the next trains incoming. It, instead, showed only one line, alternating between Japanese and English: all service on the Blue Line — the Yokohama municipal subway system — had been suspended, and people were advised to take alternate modes of transportation.

There had been an omen earlier: the line for the bus outside of the FamilyMart right beside the Mitsuzawa-kamicho station entrance was far longer than it usually was. We’d been joking that the line’d been long because maybe something had happened to the subway, and maybe we should instead swing by a karaoke joint in Wada-machi before taking the Sotetsu line from the station there instead, but it turns out: it was true. There were, in fact, no trains to take.

Something had happened on a Japanese train system that made it shut everything down, and we were at a loss on what to do next.  (more…)

I’m Okay

To those people who know me IRL: yes, this earthquake just happened, and yes, we felt it in Yokohama. Don’t worry, we’re completely fine.

There was quite a bit that happened today on the way back from the university, though…I’ll put up a blog post tomorrow on that.

Excuse Me, I Need A Moment

So I went to Tokyo for the first time since landing here to visit a couple of friends…and coming back to the dorms has honestly been a profound experience. I mean, yeah, I’d realized I was a stone’s throw away from the world’s largest metropolitan area, but I think the realization sort of actually hit me when I stood in trains for an hour while taking two JR lines and a subway to get back.

And as I was standing in front of the dorms, that feeling sort of developed — my dorms aren’t just a hotel or anything. This is my home for ten months, and I’m just getting started. I mean, when I start saying “it’s good to be back” when I’ve just gone to Tokyo for an evening…yeah, there’s something happening.

Oh, and Akihabara hasn’t changed one bit from when I last visited in 2008, I swear. Just replace the advertisements and goods for the anime and games of 2008 with advertisements for the anime and games of 2012. Makes sense. ◆

Chasing the Sun: An Account of Getting There

San Francisco

I didn’t get much sleep. I don’t think I got any proper sleep, actually. After talking with a couple of people online, I lied down for an hour and a half, successfully losing consciousness for a good chunk of that and then staying restless thereafter. At a certain point I’d decided I should probably work on getting the site up, so the installation went through and the first post and about page went up.

The plan was to head over to the airport at 4. By this time, it was 3, so I took a shower and had a cup of water and orange juice, but no actual breakfast. (This would come back to bite me later.) My parents drove me over to the airport at 4:20, arriving at 5. Both check-in and security were speedy due to the airport being rather barren that early in the morning. Only one restaurant was open; I took a peek and decided I’d tough it out until Vancouver.

The gate was pretty empty when I got there, but as we got closer to our 7:oo boarding time, more people showed up. A good chunk of them went for coffee or cocoa — a thing I was rather tempted to follow. It wasn’t until I got in line that my hunger started to make itself known to me, and by that time, it was too late.

Thankfully, not long after takeoff, I dozed off to sleep for an hour, marking the first real hour of sleep I got.


The airport at Vancouver’s pretty slick. In fact, it looks like a small airport grafted onto an upscale mall of duty-free gift shops. But, first, I had to go through Canadian customs (despite not actually getting off here). The way to customs for international connections looks sort of shady and ominous, actually:

Clearance was granted without a hitch, and I immediately went to go look for my gate, which was fairly easy to find. Nearby was a food court with a Tim Hortons, which I’d never tried before, so I had breakfast: an apple caramel bagel and some Timbits (donut holes). Thankfully, they accepted US bills.

A couple of hours later, I boarded the plane. It wasn’t very crowded — something I was very thankful for as there was an empty seat between me and my neighbor. The middle seat and tray table became communal, allowing us to put our tray tables away as soon as we were done with food. (Due to the way the seating works, I also got extra leg space — something that I completely took advantage of.)

Seven Miles a Minute

The only in-flight entertainment I squeezed out of Air Canada’s system was an hour of GoldenEye before I started drifting off to sleep, so I put my screen to sleep and I, along with it. While watching it, lunch was served: beef over rice, warm bread, salad with some sort of vinaigrette. That’s how I spent the first two hours of the flight.

The next eight hours were stuck on a rotating flight information screen that wouldn’t let me back out to everything else,  so while I was well-informed of where we were, I couldn’t follow through with my intended James Bond marathon. Instead, I played with my phone; Anodia sucked an hour away, and Final Fantasy Tactics gave me a 30 minute battle, before I fell asleep again.

When I came to, it was 7:30 back home — so we’d been flying for six hours. I used the restroom to stretch a bit and wash up. The rest of the time was spent trying to go to sleep or idling on my phone, wishing it had an Internet connection. Dinner came, and consisted of soy-glazed chicken over rice, a refrigerated piece of bread, and a cup of fruit; it was actually lighter than lunch. (I’d like to note that Air Canada’s food, while it doesn’t look particularly appetizing, is quite scrumptious.)


My flight landed at 4 PM — a good hour-ish late — so I hurried, hoping to get through immigration and customs as fast as I could. Immigration was a very quick process — a debarkation form and passport later, I had my gaijin pass Resident Card given to me on the spot (nice!). The bottleneck, instead, was waiting for baggage. (While I’m on the subject of baggage: thank you, NRT, for offering free baggage carts at international baggage claim — try that one, SmarteCarte. Addendum: Apparently SmarteCarte does offer such a service — thanks, Miluda!)

Customs was also completely painless — handed them my card and passport; was asked what my purpose of stay was, and they let me through. Exchanging my dollars post-security to yen at 75 JPY to USD was sort of painful. Getting a ticket for the Airport Limousine Bus was awesome, as they were offering promo ¥2000 tickets for students (normally they’re ~¥3500); and their English service was quite nice.

When things weren’t in English, they came to me in super-fast Japanese. The Limousine Bus station was one of those times: attendants talking to me about getting in line, grabbing my bags, showing them my ticket. It took me two seconds to process, but because of that lag, I reflexively just said “hai” over and over even when the Limo Bus staff asked things like “There isn’t anything breakable in these pieces of luggage, right?” Which there were. Oops. (Thankfully, the two breakables I’d packed were not shattered.)

The bus itself wasn’t crowded; each person pretty much took a pair of seats, aside from a couple of businessmen in the back in deep discussion. By the time I’d left Narita, it was 5:45 PM, dark, and raining. I wasn’t starved of scenery: I was able to take in the sights of the cities at night. While doing so, I mused over a couple of things:

  • Even though it was heading for Yokohama, the Limousine Bus played back a series of videos for the first leg of the trip. Among these is a slideshow labelled “Have a great time in TOKYO”…and a slideshow of, for some reason, Utah.
  • I have to think in metric now. Seeing a handful of gas stations that started at 149 yen, I thought to myself “WOW THAT IS CHEAP” until I realized that it’s 149 yen a liter for unleaded…which translates into 563 yen a gallon. Mercy to those who drive cars in this country!
  • Speaking of cars, my jetlagged self, bereft of sleep, took a while to realize once again that Japanese drive driver’s-side-is-on-the-right cars and they drive on the left side of the road. Until then, from my seat in the bus, I’d seen a couple of cars pass by with seemingly no driver at all…nope, just hiding on the right-hand side.
Yokohama looked pretty as we drove up to it; the Cosmo Clock ferris wheel looked very pretty, ticking away its seconds through its spokes.


Arriving at Yokohama Station, I immediately found myself in the care of my tutor, who walked me through the station to my dorm. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

It would be, but Yokohama Station is HUGE. Like, FREAKING HUGE. Like, they built a mall and a subway station underground and the Japanese weren’t just satisfied so they ordered, like, four more of each, and combined them into some super-giganto-mega-mall-slash-station-o-tron. Following my tutor was a bit like that one maze part in Majora’s Mask where you have to follow the Deku Scrub butler, except with a crowd and without doors closing abruptly in my face.

The station was filled with people returning home from everything — I’d thought, I guess this makes sense, it’s 7 PM — and the train to the dorm was just as packed. The chats that I had with my tutor were fast-paced; he either didn’t speak that much English, or he overestimated my Japanese ability.

The moment we got to the dorms both my tutor and I were greeted and I was sent straight into dorm orientation (this is how you separate trashfigure out where your emergency exits are, and so on and so forth). This took about thirty minutes; afterwards I was given my room keys, and we went up to my room and I was given a lowdown.

By the time everything was said and done, it was 10 PM. Internet was already built into the room; thankfully, I’d brought my own LAN cable so I hardwired my laptop in and shared the connection with my phone. Things were sent. Updates happened. Dinner happened shortly thereafter: two meat buns and strawberry milk courtesy of Famima.

At 11 PM, I finally was able to get more than an hour of continuous sleep for the first time in 36 hours. In three hours, I’d wake up, and write this post. ◆