Japan: Part 1

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By now, you’ve seen the pictures. (If you haven’t, they’re still up on my Facebook page for your viewing and liking pleasure.) And by now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Well friends, that adage is exactly opposite, in terms of my trip to Japan last month. In these terms, my thousands of pictures are worth one word: mind-blowing. As in, my mind was blown that: 1) I was in Japan, and 2) I was in Japan for ¥free.99.

That’s right.

Aside from the small amount of yen that I spent on a train ticket, a Starbucks mug, a box of Green Tea Kit Kats, a Big Mac meal and some ginger ale, the rest of my expenses – meals, transportation and lodging – for one week were completely covered. Thoroughly taken care of. Totally thrown into the sea of forgetfulness never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s usually at this point in the story when people ask me, either with their facial expressions or their tones, “WTF?” to which my general response, either with my facial expression or my tone, is “WTF, indeed.” In fact, throughout my Japan journey, I could see the letters “W” “T” “F” floating above me like pillowy, profane clouds.

There were WTF moments of extreme excitement like when I was first informed of the trip – and the non-existent price of the trip – by my mentor, Alan Cohen, on the very day that I received my renewed passport in the mail.

There were WTF moments of extreme fear like when, on the very day of my flight, I had a sudden sobbing-hysterical breakdown and had to be talked off the ledge by someone I barely knew who assured me repeatedly that “this will be fun.”

There were WTF moments of extreme embarrassment like when the flow of my period flooded my panties and damn-near the entire bathroom on the plane ride to Japan.

And then there were WTF moments of extreme awe like when I finally landed in Japan.

WTF, I thought, surveying the people, images and sounds that surrounded me. I’m a foreigner.

Where’s Waldo…and everything else?

Upon arriving at the Chubu Centrair International Airport, my first concern for my first day in the Land of the Rising Sun was getting some money. I had made the nine hour flight from Hawai’i to Japan penniless, or rather, yen-less.

Though I had a lot of US cash on-hand, I had less on my debit card, and I was terrified by the thought of facing the Rising Sun with rampant starvation. Thankfully, all of my flight’s meals and beverages were included in the price of the flight—the price that was already paid for me. (Thank you, Jesus!)

Nevertheless, I did try to do the responsible thing and conduct a money exchange at several banks on Maui before leaving for Japan, but none of them had any yen to lend, much less exchange.

“We’d have to order some,” one teller after another told me.  “It’ll take at least a week.”

Yeah, no, I thought, offering a “No, thank you” instead.

So, after landing at the airport on a full stomach and successfully making it through customs, I started rifling through my papers to find my printout of the airport’s layout, zooming in on the various locations of the money exchange kiosks.

“Do you need help?”

An older Japanese gentleman wearing a brightly-colored vest with the words “Airport Volunteer” emblazoned across the front and back approached me.

“Yes,” I said, smiling and nodding.

I had never been so happy to hear English spoken. I pointed to a place on my map and he then pointed behind me. There was a money exchange kiosk not even a yard away.

“Arigato,” I said, spouting off one of the very few words in my Japanese vocabulary.

After trading in $100 USD for roughly ¥11,500 JPY (after the exchangers took their cut, of course), I was ready to move on to the second most important item on my agenda—getting to the Nagoya Marriott Associa Hotel…without ending up on a boat to Guam. (I can be directionally-challenged at times—at many times.)

According to Google Maps, the hotel could be reached easily with a direct, 30-minute train ride from the airport. What Google Maps did not account for, however, is how easily overwhelmed I can become with easy tasks…that involve the Japanese language.

True, I had a Lonely Planet Japanese guidebook tucked away in my backpack for such an occasion, but what was also true was that at that overwhelming moment, I didn’t want a friggin’ guidebook; I wanted a friggin’ guide. And wouldn’t you know it, right then and there, my guardian angel-airport greeter appeared once more.

“Do you need help?” he asked again, as earnestly as before.

“Yes,” I said, still joyous at the sound of familiar words coming from his mouth.

I showed him the Google Maps directions in my hand.

“I need to go to the Nagoya Marriott,” I said, pointing to the paper.

“Hai,” he replied.

He then led me through the airport to the train station and even helped me buy my ticket.

“Stay on this train all the way to Nagoya, then get off at Nagoya,” he said. “The train will be leaving soon.”

Want to come with me? I thought.

“Okay,” I said instead. “Arigato.”

My angel waved and headed back to return to his post. I could feel my nerves return as soon as his heel touched the floor.

For one thing, I thought that I was already in Nagoya, as my previous research clearly indicated that the airport was in Nagoya; but unless Nagoya was suffering from a severe case of gerrymandering and, my angel, a case of amnesia, clearly, I was not in Nagoya. Secondly, I was glad to have made it as far as the train, but I was already considering the whale of time I’d have finding the hotel once I got off.

You can do this, Stephanie, I thought as the train doors opened and beckoned me and the other patient passengers inside.

I found my assigned seat and nestled my two bags in the space in front of my legs. I then watched others for cues on proper protocol, and slid my ticket into a small opening located at the back of the headrest in front of me. Once I felt nearly assured that I was a law-abiding train traveler, I leaned back in my seat. I felt the slight reverberation of a modern engine start and then I heard a ding. A voice speaking in Japanese came over the P.A. system.

Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, I thought.

My entire body tensed up at once. After a couple minutes of the automated monologue, there was a pause.

“Thank you for riding…“ the voice then said in English.

I exhaled loudly.

“Oh my God,” I whispered.

Copyright © 2014-2016 Stephanie Rochelle Redd. All rights reserved.

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