Since the end of 2006, my interest and fascination with Japan has grown by leaps and bounds. It all started when I sat down one night to watch some anime, just to see what the fuss was about. Within a week, with some marathon-like sessions of watching anime continuously on end, I became hooked and wanted to learn more about Japanese culture.
An opportunity to whet my appetite for almost all things Japanese came in the summer when some friends of mine from a Buddhist young adult group were planning a trip to visit Japan before going to Taiwan afterwards. After working out the logistics, and getting my passport ready, I was destined for my first-ever trip to Japan.
I told myself not to get too nervous because this was the first time I was going to fly outside of North America. I remember working up a sweat while waiting in the terminal for the boarding call.
If anyone seeks to fly to Japan, please travel with Japan Airlines. Every seat came equipped with little monitors in the headrests so that you can monitor the plane’s overall progress on its route, watch TV shows, movies, listen to music, or play games. I spent much of time playing Mahjong against computer opponents. The food was quite good, as passengers had a choice of seafood or something more palatable for western travelers (usually some form of chicken or steak). There were two meals plus snacks and drinks.
After 11 hours (or was it 12?) in the air, we were finally approaching Tokyo-Narita Airport. I kept staring out the window as if I were a little child, marveling at the landscape below. We eventually landed at the airport and my friends and I just followed everyone else off the plane. In complete tourist fashion, we took pictures of practically everything while we were on the people-movers.
Narita Airport was quite fascinating for a gaijin (foreigner) like myself. English and Japanese co-existed on airport signage. Petite, female airport employees spoke in a sing-song kind of way at the baggage claim as they reminded us not to take someone else’s bags. Every announcement made over the PA was preceded by a multi-tone chime that I thought was rather catchy. I also learned how much more polite the Japanese are as I bought a manga magazine at a newsstand.
Since I was traveling with a group representing the New York temple of Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA), the temple got in touch with their sister temple in Tokyo to arrange for someone to pick us up. In case you didn’t know, cars drive on the left-hand side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car. It was odd that the “shotgun” seat was the driver’s seat in American cars. I also kept thinking my side of the car was going to hit the walls inside the airport parking garage but I was proven wrong by our driver’s skills. I found Japanese GPS systems to be interesting as they looked more advanced than their American counterparts.
Japanese side streets are about as narrow as some driveways, yet cars are able to navigate them with ease. Some American cars would get stuck on these side streets, especially because they tend to be wider than Japanese cars. As for the cars we saw, many of them were Hondas and Toyotas (surprised?).
If any of you go to Japan in the near or distant future, take pride in knowing that they value cleanliness highly. More than 99 percent of the vehicles we saw looked spotless, as if they were just driven out of a showroom. Trucks, especially sanitation trucks, were spotless, as well. There wasn’t much litter at all on the streets but garbage cans were locked, covered, or completely missing at many places (particularly rail stations). The G8 Summit was taking place in Hokkaido, Japan (off in northern Japan) so precautions were taken to ensure no one would leave any bombs in litter bins or cause any other disturbances.
We visited the BLIA Tokyo temple, which was where we were going to stay during our time in Japan. The three girls in our group had their own room while I and the other male in a group stayed in our room. We had a brief moment to settle down and drop off our luggage.
In the evening we went to DECKS Tokyo Beach, a shopping center in Odaiba that provided a beautiful view of the Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge. It featured a selection of diverse stores but at this point, I became overwhelmed by the jet lag. I nearly fell asleep a few times while waiting on a bench for the others. I was too tired to do much shopping.
Once we arrived back at the temple and went to our rooms, I felt like I had been knocked out by a sack of bricks. Even though I was exhausted, I was exhilarated that I was actually half-way across the world in Japan for the first time ever. And on top of that, nothing bad happened to me at all!
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