I have been tired before, exhausted even. But as I’m writing this out, I don’t think I’ll ever be this tired again. It’s been a long day, and in that time span, I have “lost” 14 hours. Maybe the math doesn’t add up, but I don’t mind.
Ever since I got the call in early October, I was never sure I was actually going to leave. This year had promised me this opportunity twice and twice had taken it away and so the suddenness of its arrival was staggering. Despite going through the whole process of acquiring my visa and other paperwork, I was still questioning the reality of the moment up into the early morning on Sunday as we left for the airport.
This will be one of the most important decisions I have made for myself. I don’t know how many times I found myself wondering, “Am I really doing this?” By the time I stepped on the plane in Chicago, the point-of-no-return, I was still questioning myself.
But I should have expected Japan to ignore my doubts. I flew on Japan Airlines, and, to set the scene, there was a grand total of 7 people on board a 767. The service I received throughout this flight made me feel like I was flying first class. I don’t think I’ve ever had as great of a customer experience than that.
[At this point, I passed out. I meant to try and get this out last night (Monday morning CST) but I was exhausted].
I was served several dishes with a particular note of the gyodon from Yoshinoya. Gyodon is thinly-cut beef, trimmed you might say, atop a bed of rice. Coat it with a little sauce flavoring and you have one of Japan’s famous “quick meals.” I was also offered a salmon meal on rice with some rice noodles and some coleslaw.
Going through customs was a bit of a process. As you can imagine, the steps taken to stop COVID have been serious. 6 feet apart at all times. No close conversations (and pretty much no talking). No removing of masks except for a facial screening. I didn’t think I’d ever have trouble typing on a keyboard, but Japanese computers have certain keys in different places and the space bar is much smaller. But once all of the logistics were over, I was able to sit down and catch my breath. At this point, I had been awake for almost 22 hours.
Of the 7 passengers on my flight, it turns out I wasn’t alone, in terms of being an AEON teacher. I met a guy who was from Iowa who had been recruited out of the LA office and we got to talking. He would be working out of a small town in central-west Japan. I personally had to make sure I wasn’t talking loud as I grew more excited just talking about this whole experience with someone else. He was coming back to Japan as he had actually lived in Tokyo for a length of time prior to returning to the states of college. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to connect with someone who had already been here.
One thing to note while we were at the airport: it was SPOTLESS. No trash, anywhere. No scuff marks on the floors, no dust in the corners. No sign of janitorial staff. Narita Airport was pristine. And as two more joined us we set off towards our hotel.
At this time it was closing in on 7:30PM local time. There were 6 of us teachers in the car and it was a spattering of state-side cities: Denver, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Ohio. Varying backgrounds, but I was the only one who was a first timer to the country. It was fascinating to hear the others recall their past experiences and of course I was making mental notes. And it turned out that 4 of the 6 were actually going to be working in roughly the same neck of the woods. One teacher would be working out of Ama City which is west of Nagoya. Another was working in the north end of the city. I was working out of the north-eastern side of the city, while the fourth was working in the neighboring prefecture of Gifu. Naturally, we all swapped numbers and made promises to meet up in Nagoya for dinner some time.
As we closed in to our sleeping quarters, and where I will be quarantined for the next 14 days, the city back drop changed from the rolling outskirts by the airport into the condensed, almost claustrophobic heart of Tokyo, Japan. Our route took us past Tokyo Disneyland which sits in Tokyo Bay, as well as the glittering behemoth of a tower, Tokyo Skytree. It was difficult not to marvel at the closeness of the city. Every side street felt like a pathway in a model trainset. The shops with their glowing awnings were open for late night business and people, so many people, went about their daily routines, everyone wearing a mask and standing a distance apart. An ambulance drove by, but the sirens were accompanied by a loud speaker shouting what was essentially (upon later research), “We are going through the red light so please wait a moment.” The noted politeness at the end is essential, as it’s words are meant to provide drivers ahead a more careful response, rather than being startled by its arrival and passing.
But we finally reached the hotel. Wedged amongst a dense residential neighborhood, we pulled in and checked into the hotel. It was difficult not to crash immediately upon entering, but some of the teachers were going to grab food for the following morning, and I figured to go along while I had guaranteed company. We went to a Family Mart and I picked up a few items that I could store in my fridge. My room also comes with a heating kettle, so I’ll keep that in mind the next time I go out.
I will be quarantined for 14 days. I will have limited access to leave, but only for food, and only as small as possible. I am exhausted, but I had arrived. I was in Tokyo, Japan and, for now, I am living a dream. More to come!