We're going to Japan!

Two days before leaving, my friend André and I started packing to avoid the unavoidable last minute purchases and preparation. It was hard to realise that in about two days from then, we would already be at the airport to go to Japan for the following month. Time to prepare our backpacks and charge our cameras!

My bags are almost ready and, yes, it's some poutine sauce you see there. We hum.. have some plans.

André's stuff is packed and ready to go!

With the help of André's sister, we discovered the wonders of rolling our clothes in little tight rolls to fit more into our luggage. It really compresses the clothes and it's a helpful tip for those who want to have more volume to bring back souvenirs. Just be careful about the weight limitations the airline have in place for checked luggage.

The morning has now finally come and we're already tired. I began to type these words while André was sleeping next to me on our first flight. I was so excited, even with the fact that we haven’t slept the night before our pretty early departure; I couldn’t sleep at all during the entire flight, as our dream was coming true “today”. The emphasis on the word “today” here is important; as it will literally be the longest day we will ever live.

We’ve been wished a lot of fun and unexpected events and we were well served right from the start. The first step into the airport at 4 o’clock in the morning is to check-in to get our tickets, and that’s where we learned that our flights have been changed… again! We first had our flight schedule changed without any notice and we were leaving 3 hours earlier. Fortunately, it’s now for the better. We’re still leaving around 7 o’clock, but instead of going from Montreal to Narita through Chicago, where we would have been waiting for 5 hours between the two flights, we happened to go through Dallas, in Texas. Overall, we instead spent more time in planes, had only got 3 hours of wait between flights and we arrived to Narita 5 minutes earlier. Not what I’d call a great inconvenience.

Boarding the first plane was really exciting! In my case, it was the first time I was flying and I was not aware of the take-off and landing experiences. On his side, André was calm but could have enjoyed the ride better without the landing feeling. I must say it was really nice and I kept getting excited over the turbulences, accelerations and turns. It really felt like riding a giant slow roller-coaster. From there, we had a wonderful view! We could see farmlands and cities from a really high point of view, and it’s always nice to pierce through clouds as you can’t see anything else around.

Four hours later, we were there, in Dallas. Half of the steps were done, and it was a relief to finally walk around a bit, especially knowing a nearly 13-hour flight was following. We had 3 hours to kill, but this time we had a lot more stuff to do, compared to Montreal at 7am. The airport is much bigger and we had a lot of places to go wander while waiting for our flight. However, we observed that whatever was surrounding the airport wasn’t really interesting.

We were looking for restaurants, and we found out that if we eliminate tacos and shoe-shine stands, everything there was either fast food or fancy and expensive restaurants. We went with the cheap option. However, André had never really eaten McDonald's before, and then we decided to give it a try. The breakfast menu gave him a feeling of Tim Hortons, back home. But we forgot that we were in Texas… the richness of the food there was killing us, feeling full and bad after that meal. To me, it really looked like I was about to eat a deep-fried breakfast sandwich.

That meal, mixed with our tiredness, resulted into something involving us and the airport carpet for some good sleepy action for about 40 minutes. I then decided to get myself a pillow for the second flight, as I wanted a minimum of sleep quality for the final flight… to Narita!

This time, there was no wifi signal in the plane, and the first flight didn’t have it for free so I passed for a 4-hour-long flight. We did not have regular electrical outlets this time either, so we had to do with the batteries we had for the whole trip.

On that flight where we were running after the sun, we had a mini-snack, 2 plane meals and a small lunch. At first, I didn’t believe that plane food was that bad, but I got my confirmation. For the first meal, the salad was the best part, but for the second meal, we had little pizza pies, which were not that bad. However, we now had an interesting system at our disposition!

Hidden under our seats, there were individual little interactive screens on which we could listen to music, watch some TV shows or movies on demand. André re-watched Hunger Games and I watched Liar Game: Reborn, which was pretty good, but which I couldn’t finish because the system suddenly crashed on the last minutes. However, there was another feature, we could also play games on it!

We found out that our systems also functioned with those awesome little controllers. It looked like a mix between a Wiimote and a SNES controller. When André saw that, he immediately wanted to try out Mario World on it. But sadly, there were no Mario games in it and there was no multiplayer option, but we could get a taste of Tetris… with horrible unconventional controls. We didn’t suffer for too long, because the landing was starting and we could finally get out and walk for a bit.

Finally, after a bright day of about 24 hours of daylight, we arrived to the country of the rising sun! We only had to get through Japanese customs, which were much nicer and welcoming than in the United States, get our luggage, and we would be free!

Now it’s time to go exchange our Japan Rail Passes, which will allow us to travel all over Japan by train, including the shinkansen, and get ourselves Suica cards to ease our moves.

This card is pretty easy to understand, and won’t really change our habits, since we’re using the Opus card in Montreal. It’s much simpler this time, instead of holding a transport title, it’s holding a money balance and does all the trouble of transfers and not goofing with ticket rates. *beep* when we get in, *beep* when we get out, and it’s done! We can also use it for many other things, like paying in a store or in a taxi, which makes this card really convenient.

Now that everything is done, we stumble on our very first vending machines and we couldn’t resist to officialise our arrival and get ourselves a new taste.

I have to mention here, that André kept the same Match bottle and refilled it for all the trip long, he just threw it away when we arrived at Haneda airport on our way back home.

Now time to get on board the Narita Express to a city much bigger than the Montreal that we know and where many things and habits are still unknown to us and are yet to be discovered!

The ride was quite nice, as we could simply get on, lock our luggage, sit comfortably at air conditioning, relax and watch a nice summer landscape and the suburbs between Narita and Tokyo. We could watch Japan’s landscapes for the first time and we could then feel that we were there, that we were finally in Japan and that soon, we will be in nothing less than Tokyo.

Now Friday evening, we were out of Tokyo station after 40 hours of transport. We were finally 100% free and we could now breathe some fresh air from outside for the first time since Tuesday morning at 4am! The feeling to finally be in Tokyo, after all these years, was wonderful! This city at night is like a great lighting festival and we were like two excited kids who just entered high school.

Tokyo at night is awesome, but we made a mistake getting off the train at Tokyo station. We fooled around for long before finding out that there were no affordable hotels nearby, so we took the metro to Shinjuku. The hardest part about travelling into Tokyo’s metro, was to move through all the crowds with our entire luggage. After a while searching, we finally found the Green Plaza Shinjuku. André had to convince me to stay there because it didn’t look so well at first and we found a regular, and not much more expensive, hotel while we were looking around. The ambiance was fast and confusing and I was paranoid about our stuff’s safety, but it was great, after all. We could let our luggage to the staff so they keep them locked in the cloakroom and we had lockers for the stuff we kept with us.

After checking in, they gave us a pajama and a towel so we can go wash up a little before going to sleep. Everything was included there: Soaps, towels, razors, toothbrushes and hair dryers; everything in single-use packaging. We could then drop our stuff, relax, look at our beds, take a shower… no. It was the first time I was taking the plane and I needed time to realize that we were on the other end of the world and to get used to the local habits. As we were going to the baths, I realised something: The baths are shared with all the other hotel guests… and we’re in Japan. We then decided to go separately.

I went in, sat on a little plastic bench in a corner in front of a mirror and relaxed for a bit. Even though I knew this beforehand, it was a shock to find myself naked in a room with many other men, also naked. André got it easier, he was so tired he managed to ignore everyone and just relax in the bath and watch television for a while. He particularly liked the water's high temperature of the typical Japanese bath, since he always put hot water at maximum at home.

Finally, time for bed, a real bed! Some good rest after a day of almost 50 hours. What we had there was a not so small capsule around the size of a small closet and we, over 6-feet-tall men, could fit easily in there and have place to move and being possessed in our sleep. We had access to a personal TV, lamp, radio and an alarm clock. It was in fact pretty relaxing.

Good night!