I didn’t expect to be able to blog any part of my vacation, but my hotel room on the first night actually has a computer, so here goes. (Typing on a Japanese keyboard is a pain too.)

I thought flying out on Christmas would ensure an empty flight, but I was wrong. The airport was empty, but the flight was pretty full. The airline meals were decent (pork ginger don in for the first meal, pasta and salmon for the second), and we got ice cream for a snack, but I’m surprised we didn’t get instant noodles. I didn’t sleep much, but that just makes me tired for tonight, so hopefully my jet lag will be kept to a minimum. I also saw a light-hearted Japanese comedy film. I have no idea what it’s called, but “Terry’s bar” was in there somewhere, so hopefully a web search later will pin it down. (We landed right before the movie completely ended, but I got the point.)

I sat next to a couple on their way to Beijing, Blaine, who works in international business, and Dong, who teaches fashion marketing at Sacramento State. We arrived at Narita 30 minutes early, and I breezed through immigration and customs.

Matt’s flight was supposed to arrive at 4. The arrivals screen said “15:00” but said “customs” as opposed to “arrived.” What the heck did that mean? Matt told me later that they were taxiing for 30 minutes and then it took him forever to get through customs and immigration. But otherwise our plan worked perfectly, meeting in front of the Japan Rail Office so that we could get our JR passes and reserve shinkansen (bullet train) tickets for the next day to Osaka. We were afraid it’d be hard to get a space during the holiday season, but we were fine.

The train from Narita to Tokyo took a lot longer than Matt and I expected, 1 hour and 15 minutes. It was a little bit of a challenge to navigate our way through the train, subway, and streets, but my rudimentary knowledge of Chinese characters helped a little bit (a lot of the subway maps are only in Japanese). But there is a lot of English on signs around here; so far, I’ve been struck by the lack of culture shock so far. (I’ve also had the urge to bow to everyone around here.)

Matt and I are staying at a nice hotel in Roppongi — the room isn’t big by American standards, but is apparently palatial by Japanese. For dinner, we met up with the other half of the touring group, Michael and John, along with Michael’s friend Scott. Scott took us and his friend Mike to a teppanyaki place in another hotel [photo]. We had some pretty funny conversations; for example, Mike asked that if you were placed in a vat of 80 Proof alcohol, would you eventually absorb enough alcohol through your skin to get alcohol poisoning and die?

It was not cheap: Matt and my meal was about 11,000 yen each (about $110) and everyone else’s about 17,500 yen. The only major difference was that we had prawns instead of lobster. But the beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, both the filet and the sirloin. All of that marbling (i.e. fat) was bound to do something. My expectations for the sirloin were lower, so it surprised me more. Mike said that Japanese beef is so much richer, you eat a lot less of it. We also had a bunch of sides, topped of with an ice cream or sorbet dessert. We were completely stuffed. I felt like running a lap around Tokyo.

We’ll see how often I can get access to a computer during this trip. Tomorrow we’re off to Osaka. Until next time!