The journey began at the respectable hour of 9 am, July 30th. It would take 22 hours to arrive at my destination: Japan.
A year ago, I was aching to leave Japan. I so badly missed my home in Canada, my family, my friends, the pleasantly acceptable Vancouver summers, west coast sushi, and - say it with me - cheese.
I drank excellent beer. I ate an array of artisanal cheeses and cured meats. I went to IKEA and showed great restraint. I spent money with gusto on other non-IKEA things. I went to school, nostalgic and hopeful.
And then for a variety of emotionally confusing reasons, I ached to be back in Japan. But how could I justify the cost and time of such a return? Remember the gusto with I spent money, predominantly on fine cheeses?
Okay that's the last time I'll mention cheese. I think.
Thankfully, school had provided me with an opportunity to justify the time/cost/putting up with the overwhelming heat of the Japanese summer. There's this thing that grad students have to do called a thesis (actually it's optional in Journalism school now but I decided it was necessary) and I proposed that mine would be about the frontiers of love within the human-technology relationship, with a specific focus on otaku that play LovePlus, a dating simulation game. Stay tuned for more on that topic as it manifests itself as the guiding light of my pursuit through the frustrating path to higher education.
For now, let's talk about my questionable sanity in attempting to embark on this journey and complete this project on my own, and what things have been like upon my return to Japan.
To the plane (be careful not to spill)
In front of the Holiday Inn in downtown Vancouver, my shuttle bus to Seattle-Tacoma airport leisurely pulled up to the curb where my fellow bus riders and I were waiting. The man that emerged as our driver possessed a body that did little to inspire confidence in its ability to sustain his heart for the duration of the journey. His face sagged with the weight of many years past his true age, the wear of many long drives and countless bags of jelly bellys consumed grasping hold under his eyes with increasing force and dragging him down, down into his eventual grave. He was, however, incredibly pleasant, and I decided it was reasonable to trust him with my life for the next five hours.
The interior of the bus then threw any such assurances I had gained in the driver out the figurative window, as I took my seat and discovered the vehicle had no fucking cup holders.
We drove. Just past the border we passed a small trailer that had somehow ended up in a ditch off the highway. The apparent drivers looked like fresh, doughy college boys, who showed clear disappointment in the derailment of their summer fun chariot, the slogan "we ♥ boobs" emblazoned on every window.
Amazingly we got to the airport just five minutes after the estimated time of arrival, which as anyone who has taken a Greyhound bus anywhere knows simply never happens. I took it as a good omen.
A kind man with adult braces at my gate explained how standby procedures work (as this is how I was flying).
"It's customary to buy the agent candy, chocolate and coffee," he said, his face betraying no emotion.
"Any type of chocolate in particular?" I asked.
"Actually a small latte would be great," he said.
He kindly printed me a ticket for my individual, premium seat in business class.
I have to say, they've really upgraded the socks offered in the customary toiletry bag that comes with a business class.
After a starter of champagne I settled into my flight routine of finding anyway to distract myself from how far off the ground I'll be for a sustained period of time (Ativan, wine, and some Parks and Recreation usually does the trick).
The flight attendant that served me had a truly appreciable sense of humour that was dryer than the Sauv Blanc he used to top off my glass.
"Can I trade you that for dessert?" He asked monotonally, motioning at my dinner plate.
"Why yes, what do you have?" I asked.
"I have an assortment of cheeses" [okay, that's the last time I'll mention cheese] "fresh fruit, and a peach tart - although it could be dulce de leche." He stared deeply into the tart, as if it would tell him what truly lay within the its flakey bed of pastry. "You know what, let me just check." He broke a tart in two and popped a half into his mouth.
"Is it good?"
He closed his eyes. "Oh yes."
I had the tart. And all the cheeses. But I couldn't finish them all so I put them in a ziplock bag for later [forward thinking - I was going to a land void of cheese, remember. Seriously, this is the last time I talk about cheese. I ate it only a few hours later, don't worry.]
"Can I also have a few grapes?" I asked while he loaded up my dessert plate.
"Absolutely." He tried to find a literal vine with just 'a few' grapes on it. It appeared to be a challenge. "If I can get them."
"A bunch is acceptable."
"I think grapes may only come in a bunch. Here you are." He handed me a delightful looking plate and then continued to stand there.
"Do you know what a bunch of crows is called?" He asked me.
"A murder," I said.
"And what about a bunch of rhinos?"
"I don't know that one."
"A parliament," he said, his face expressionless.
"I thought that was owls?" I said.
He paused. "Maybe it's a rigamarole. It's a bunch of something." He turned and pushed the cart forwards.
We arrived at Haneda airport early and without a hitch. I slept for a little over an hour to try and force my body to adjust to the future time that Japan operates in (17 hours ahead of PST in Vancouver), which worked in the sense that I was exhausted by the time I reached my hostel just two stops away on the train from the airport - although I was temporarily enlivened by the familiar sound of the stations, remembering the many times I had walked through the turnstiles on my way to and from travels across the country, listening to the calming rhythm of the train cars cross the tracks and the cicadas chirping. I showered my tired, sweaty self and passed out at midnight, Japan time, 22 hours after my journey had begun. A new one started the next day.