Wednesday, July 28, 2010

YYZ

Today is the 20th anniversary of me setting foot in Japan for the very first time. Yay for me.
Lucky you, I just discovered the notepad I used to document the first couple of weeks - okay, maybe that's just lucky for me. But since I have it, let me tell you more about that first day. It starts the day before.

At the Toronto airport, I was just about to pass through US Immigration and Customs when I suddenly realize I have left all of my Japanese money (Yen) back home. Luckily my dad is still around so we drive back to my home 15 minutes away for me to retrieve it. An omen of things to come? Perhaps - but at least I remembered early enough to go and get it - I still had three hours before the flight. My dad and I did the short good-bye. I hope it was for the best. It was for me at any rate.
I flew NW-283 to Detroit and apparently we landed so far from the terminal it took 20 minutes for us to hit our gate. That left myself and 100 other Torontonians going to Japan exactly 10 minutes to make our connection to Japan aboard the 747 NW-011. On that flight I sat next to a girl named Stephanie. After introductions we both mentioned that we had gone out with someone of the same name, and that it didn't work out very well (actually for me, it worked out well enough - she was the reason I applied for this JET (Japane Exchange & Teaching) Programme - so she changed seats opting to sit in the smoker's section. You can tell how long ago this story took place - smoking on the airplane? Anyhow, enough about that.

So... my first day in Tokyo. We arrive at Narita Airport at 4PM on Sunday. Deplaning, my first impression was quite literally: "Ommigawd it's friggin' hot!" Actually, it wasn't the heat, but the stupidity.
After a 10-minute wait at immigration I spend 20 minutes waiting for my luggage to appear at the carousel. I realized I would need two dollies to carry my baggage, but they were like gold at this airport. I managed to find another one and with the help of someone from CLAIR (Japan's Council of Local Authorities For International Relations) we found where I was supposed to go next and separated the baggage I would need for the next few days in Tokyo from the rest of the baggage that would be sent ahead to our host institution - in my case, Ohtawara.
It was pretty obvious to all, that I had the most luggage - and I was still sure I had forgotten something. I had three suitcases, two small hand-bags, one suit holder, and two cartons carrying my clarinet and a new set of Casio keyboards. I also had a couple of bottles of booze that I was going to give to my bosses in Ohtawara - it's something we were told we should do.
I grabbed a suitcase, suit-holder, a carry-on bag and my booze and began a 1-1/2 hour bus ride to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo. Why so long? Narita airport is located in another province (Chiba-ken) - not in Tokyo.
The bus was neat, air-conditioned but had no toilet, and held 30 people - and there were maybe 15 or more of these buses there.

After catching a 30-minute snore, I notice that the roads of Tokyo look a lot like Toronto, as does the city itself - except that there are more billboards about and neon is everywhere. In fact, there are billboards everywhere, all over the skyscrappers - it looks a lot like that city in the movie Bladerunner.
There are also tonnes of Japanese cars - with 90% of them white... though I did see a Chevy Lumina!
Checking in at the hotel, the staff there are very polite, bowing and scrapping and saying "Welcome" in English. It was great.
I get to my room at 6:45PM and stay holed up there watching the English-language CNN (Operation Desert Storm was just starting to shock and awe the world) and then sleeping until 6AM the next morning.
My roomie was a fellow Torontonian named Tom Granger who would be living somewhere in a place called Akita-ken. While I sat in shock and awe at the war on television, Tom decided he wanted to see Tokyo and took off. If he came back, I didn't see him at 5:30AM when the alarm clock set by the room's previous inhabitants went off - in fact, I never saw him again.
If any of you know the whereabouts of Tom... ah, forget it.
So... that's my first day in Japan. I was too afraid to actually go out and see the place. Fortunately for me, I made up for that with a grand adventure and got to meet a couple of beautiful American  ladies - Kristine South, and Melissa Scott - to read about that adventure (and some of today's), Click LOST. Just so you know, I thought I had a shot at Melissa (whom I never saw again) and true to form didn't see Kristine until she saved my life when I attempted to cross the street and looked the wrong way. In Japan, they drive on the opposite side of the road from the U.S and Canada. Kristine certainly had my attention after that. Poor crippled Kristine with her broken foot (I think) and crutches.   

And that's the way it was, Sunday, July 29, 1990.


Somewhere older,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title, YYZ is by Toronto's own Rush. In the song, the power trio actually play out the Morse code of Y-Y-Z. My friend from Illinois, Steve Guzelis told me that one. Damn Americans knowing more about Canadian rockers. What is this world coming to? Listen to them here: GEDDYNEILALEX
PS - Want to know what YYZ means? YYZ is the three-letter designation for the officially named Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (named after former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson who brought about Universal Health Care, Student Loans, the Canada Pension Plan and the current Canadian Flag - if you want to know more, click HERE - he's a pretty interesting fellow).
PPS - Because you need to know, NRT is the three-letter designation that is globally known for the Narita airport.
PPPS - that image at the top - that's what I wrote in my notepad that first night in Japan... wasn't even sure of the date at first.
PPPPS - With the celebrations over, next is a story of salt, slapping and men in diapers.

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