Chapter 3a: The Longest Day…

I’d like to begin this entry with a strong admonition:

Do NOT assume you’ll be capable of accomplishing anything while jetlagged.

As you may remember from my last post, my flight itinerary took me to Kobe despite initially landing in the more convenient port of Tokyo. I was fairly confident that my bags would be unchecked here so I could just not take the final leg. This did work out (I skipped the last flight) – however, I had not wanted to assume it would and end up separated from my bags by several hours of rail travel so I did NOT book lodging ahead of time. A mistake. I’ll loop back to that in a minute, probably.

I arrived at my brother’s apartment on July 7th quite late at night. It took yet longer to fall asleep but we needed to wake up at 6:30 AM so he could take me to the airport. I slept about 3.5 hours. I then flew 2 hours to Chicago and another 13 to Tokyo, arriving just after 3 PM local time. Upon landing, I managed to walk off the jet bridge to the wrong area, ending up in the international connections area. It took me quite some time to figure this out, but there is NO WAY OUT OF THIS AREA. You literally have to go through the security screening checkpoint in reverse. Embarrassed of the mistake that landed me in the situation and my usual trepidation for approaching strangers exacerbated by the unfamiliar surrounds and exhaustion, I wandered around the terminal alone for about 1.5 hours trying to find the way out, an exit not being shown on any of the maps. I then summoned by courage and asked the polite Japanese girl at the information desk, who pointed me to an area I had already checked. Assuming I missed something, I spent another hour or so cross-referencing two different maps and several landmarks to make sure I was looking in the right spot, since the terminal maps are not geographically precise/to scale. I was. There was nothing there. I checked another spot which seemed likely. There was a bunch of big red “NO ENTRY” signs. Finally, I went back to the United Airlines desk near where I had come in and asked the lady there. Thankfully, she was the one holding the arcane secrets of escape from the airport. A short jaunt to a VERY hidden elevator later, I arrived at the security checkpoint, still on the wrong side. I explained the situation to one of the agents and he was kind enough to direct me through the checkpoint in reverse and walked me to the correct exit from the international flight lobby.

I walked down several flights of stairs and referenced my map to try to find the immigration and customs checkpoints. They weren’t on the map. After wandering for another 30 minutes, I was able to interpret from some contextual clues (e.g. immigration forms) the correct place to go. There was a HUGE line and only a few stations serving it. I fill out my forms and take my spot in the queue. Now, let’s consider for a moment my physical state. I had been up since 6:30 AM EST and it was now about 6:45 PM JST. There is a 13 hour time difference, which when accounted for reveal I had been up for just over 25 hours (on 3.5 hours of sleep). This ordinarily would be a problem, but also consider that I was lacking for food because the mid-flight meals had been paltry. So a larger problem, but also consider that the flight was cramped and unergonomic (never fly United overseas unless it’s business class, friends) and I am a fairly large person, physically. So add on a lot of soreness, but also consider I had just walked around the airport for at least 3.25 hours on aggregate. So I was uh…a very hungry and sore and extremely fatigued-camper while waiting in this line. I felt quite lightheaded and was concerned I might pass out. There’s no punch line here, it was just awful.

I made it through finally and claimed my baggage, then proceeded through customs. No issues there, thankfully. I caught my breath and once again referenced my terminal map. What a useless piece of shit. I needed to know how to get to the right place to get a pocket WiFi unit and also an IC card (for public transit), but it had no answers for me. Using the very slow airport WiFi, I was sorta able to extract the info from Google and caught the correct shuttle (after some puzzling) over to terminal 2. There, I couldn’t find an IC Card booth of the type that I was made to believe was ubiquitous at the airport. After some more useless wandering, I asked at the info desk. The attendant pointed me downstairs. There were no IC Card booths downstairs. I did find a place to ask about the Pocket WiFi. They’re incredibly expensive, so thanks everyone on the internet who said they are cheap. I ended up instead deciding to use the international/roaming option for my US cell carrier. After some more wandering, I did notice that there was a Japan Rail East desk and remembered something about JR selling IC Cards even though I don’t believe (?) they actually are responsible for any of the card brands. They were able to sell me one, cash only. Good thing I stopped at the ATM first.

Around this point I realized that I had nowhere to stay the night. I checked AirBnB and fortunately there was a decent looking hostel in Akihabara with an open bed, near the center of the Tokyo metropolitan area. I requested a booking and crossed my fingers they would accept. It’s now about 10 PM local time. I opened up Google Maps to figure out how to get there and saw several options to take like a million sequential buses to get there. I did not think I was equal to the task but did see one subway option. Great, I know how subways work. After a little more puzzling, I figured out you can get to the subway from near the JR East desk and swiped my IC Card to enter. Luckily that was an intuitive one, though then I realized I didn’t know where in the subway station to go. Using my 5 remaining brain cells, I figured out the correct platform eventually and after a brief chat with a friendly Scottish guy who was also feeling a bit lost, I boarded the train. I received a notification that I was set to spend this night at the hostel and was much relieved. At this point, riding the subway, I was absolutely unable to keep my eyes open. I resorted to holding my phone loosely in my hands so that if I fell asleep before my stop, it would drop and make a loud noise, hopefully waking me. I did drop it. Twice. It did wake me. Twice. Finally, I reached the stop, made a quick transfer through an unbelievably clean and nice concourse (the Tokyo subway is amazing) rode a couple more stops and arrived in Akihabara about 1 km away from the hostel. I walked to the hostel with Google Maps giving me just a bit of difficulty and checked in.

Oh, but I still hadn’t eaten since the flight. I walked to a convenience story, groggily picked out whatever ready-to-eat food seemed least likely to offend my Western tastes, and paid with pretty much the last of my cash (oops). I walked back to the hostel, ate, showered, and went to sleep.

Home, for a night. Sorry for the lack of pics in this post but you can guess why.

And then I woke up a mere 3.5 hours later, thanks to jet lag. But that’s a story of and for another day…

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