Thursday 31 July 2014

Operation Kairu ga Kaeru (カイルが帰る) Day 2 - The Chimes of Misato

My body clock was assisted in the transition to the new time zone by the therapeutic massage caused by a building violently shaking.  No, this wasn’t an earthquake, it was an HGV driving past the apartment.  Now I can see why Kyle removed the ema from his wall.
After a nice relaxing shower (definitely required after the air conditioner stops working in the middle of the night), Kyle came up with the suggestion of going to LaLaPort in search of a more comfortable mattress (namely because my spine seemed to be skewed at a 90 degree angle and this didn’t seem quite right).  Having recently become more health conscious, I suggested walking to LaLaPort rather than getting the train to Shin Misato.  Kyle looked at me with abject horror (how lazy!), I would soon discover why.  I soon discovered what walking inside an oven would likely feel like.  Drenched with sweat and feeling like we’d just run a few laps around Death Valley, we arrived at the air conditioned comfort of LaLaPort.
Kyle suggested we check out the furniture shop where he bought his couch; this seemed like a great idea as he knew they provided delivery.  But, as with most of Kyle’s ideas, this turned out to be a stupid idea as they only delivery within Japan (the UK was to be the Futon’s final destination).  Postage through JP (Japan Post) would likely have required a mortgage, this was clearly not a feasible option.
To console ourselves over our abject failure, we treated ourselves to an ice cream breakfast.  The taste was unforgettable, as was the brain freeze (the latter for entirely the wrong reasons).  After cooling off, Kyle suggested visiting a local shrine in Misato.  Little did I realise that the shrine in question just so happened to be on the other side of the city and in a rather inaccessible location.
A two headed panda - clearly something's amiss!

On the way, I noticed a small shrine next to what looked like a recycling centre.  I was told by Kyle that this is common practice and many businesses have a small shrine, usually dedicated to a Kami local to the company founder’s home.
Shrine at a local business
After that little insight, we continued our long trek (read: death march) to the shrine I had been told so much about.
The shrine was certainly worth it, in spite of the additional exercise and catching the sun.

Next order of the day was a shopping trip.    Kyle was looking to buy a ladies kimono as a present and a former colleague had offered to provide advice.  As I wouldn't have much to do and it would be a good opportunity to see another shopping mall in Misato, I was asked to tag along.  At least that’s what I thought, the truth was quite different.  After some debate and deliberations, we identified a combination of obi and sash (obi) that we thought she might like.  At the point Kyle pointed out that he needed to make sure it would fit and didn't have any measurements to hand.  I was told that this wasn't an issue because, apparently, the intended wearer is the same height and general build as me (well apart from my lack of… you know) and therefore there would be able to model it.  The penny dropped (as to the reason I was invited along) and my face turned the shade of red that can only be explained by total embarrassment.
You want me to wear what?
Fortunately, for me anyway, we were told by the shop assistant that the set couldn't be opened and tried on (my relief was quite visible at this point).  As a result we would have to work off of my estimated height (which is, as far as I'm aware, is the main measurement anyway).  From Kyles obvious disappointment I can only conclude that the pervert basically wanted to see me in a kimono.
Confident enough that the correct size had been chosen, Kyle made his purchase and had it gift wrapped.  This is one of the great things about shops in Japan.  If you’re buying something as a gift, the staff will offer to gift wrap it for you.  The wrapping is elaborate and certainly better than anything I could ever manage.
Mission accomplished, the last thing to do was grab some food on the way back.  After a nice satisfying bowl of ramen… that’s my brain done for one day.

See you next time.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Operation Kairu ga Kaeru (カイルが帰る) Day 1 - Arrival

I must be getting used to long haul flying because the 9 and a half hour flight passed faster than I expected.  The flight was pleasant enough although I never was able to find AC power.  Both seatguru and Finnair’s own website stated that there were AC power outlets in economy class.  Perhaps I should have just asked the flight attendants, oh well.
There was a young woman in the seat next to me who was returning home to Japan after some studying in Finland.  It’s quite rare for me to actually talk to other passengers (I’m used to sitting quietly when flying) but being dressed in suit led her to ask whether I was travelling for business.  This proved to be a useful conversation starter and for some of the journey we chatted about where we were travelling to/from and various places in Japan.
Upon my arrival, immigration and customs didn’t take as long as before.  This probably had something to do with making sure I’d completely filled out the immigration and customs cards before joining the queue as well as the queue generally moving quite quickly.
Preparing as much in advance as possible, I’d already arranged an airport rental phone online and simply needed to take a printed rental coupon to the counter at Narita Airport.
Before heading to Misato to meet with Kyle, first I needed to charge my Suica card with credit.  This is easy enough to do at any JR (Japan Rail) ticket machine.  Finding the JR ticket machine proved to be rather troublesome, there are a number of ticket machines for private lines and none of these will recharge s Suica.  Exercising my incredible ability to ignore what is right in front of me, the machine was next to the entrance to the NEX (Narita Express) platforms.
Having already made the journey a few times before, I didn’t have much catching the Keisei Narita Sky Access Line to Higashi Matsudo, then switching to the Musashino line to Narita (I think I have this committed to memory – so Kyle had better not move to another part of the country!).  After arriving at Misato, my navigational skills proved to be a little more reliable than I was expecting by managing to navigate my way from Misato station to Kyles apartment building.  I think he was a little surprised when I called from outside his front door, I don’t think he was expecting me to make it quite that far without help.
After not seeing Kyle for almost an entire year… we weren’t able to pick up the exact same conversation we had last time we spoke (which is what we usually manage to do) but it was pretty damn close.
The next order of business was unpacking and getting a little rest.
Arrival day tends to be a quiet day, usually because I’m jetlagged in to oblivion with my communication skills being reduced to monosyllabic grunts.  This time round was different. Although still a little tired (2 hours of rest did help a little), I felt compos mentis enough to do something other than sleep so Kyle invited his friend Yamashita san over (at this point I was a little concerned that I might not be brilliant conversation).  The plan was to carry out a little socialising followed by food and karaoke. Those of you who have never heard me singing karaoke, consider yourselves  very lucky.
Later that evening Yamashita san came round for a few drinks and a chat and we headed to get some food.  As we were in Japan, the choice of food was obvious.  Chinese! There’s a nice little Chinese restaurant in Misato.  After a nice selection of dishes and enough beers to make me not care about sounding like an orchestra of dying cats to tune of the Beatles, it was karaoke time. Courtesy of Kyles WiiU, we had a cheap and convenient alternative to conventional karaoke.  The Joysound application on the WiiU is basically the same software as found in Karaoke bars so when combined with a microphone you have a full karaoke setup.

All in all, an enjoyable and entertaining first day.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Operation Kairu ga Kaeru (カイルが帰る) Day 0 - The Journey to Japan

The Start of the Trip – Adventures in Travel
Congratulations reader, if you’ve got this far then you can clearly stand my style of travel writing!  As you may have gathered, it’s time for my (seemingly annual) trip to Japan.  Once again, I’ll be staying over with Kyle in his “spacious” abode.
So what do we have in store for this journey? This time round, Lufthansa proved to be a little more expensive than usual (usually they’re the cheapest option) and with my disappointment in their removal of the A380 SuperJumbo from the Frankfurt to Narita route I decided it was time to investigate alternative options.  This time round I’m flying with Finnair on the way out and JAL on the way back.  The short legs of these journeys are both codeshares.  So the way the journey looks is as follows:
Manchester to Helsinki (Finnair, operated by FlyBE), Helsinki to Tokyo Narita (Finnair), Tokyo Haneda to London Heathrow (JAL), London to Manchester (JAL, operated by BA).
So I’m travelling with 4 airlines I’ve never used before and 3 airports I’ve never used before.  This could get a little… stressful.  I think I’d started to take for granted the fact that I had become quite familiar with Frankfurt/Munich/Narita.  When you know where most things are in the airport it makes it easier to find the gates etc that you need when embarking, disembarking and transferring.
Enough of the aviation geekery.  So far the trip is getting off to something of a mixed start.  I cleared security in no time at all (although there was some queuing at the baggage drop off desk) so I’ve gotten through to the gates with plenty of time to spare (and time to write).  Unfortunately that was offset by a serious blonde moment – just after clearing security I came to the terrible realisation that there was something missing from my head.  I forgot my hat!  I remembered to bring it out to the car, brought it in the car but forgot to take it out of the car.  D’oh!  Fortunately, after enquiring about hats at the SuperDry (which only has baseball caps), the clerk helpfully pointed me in the direction of Timberland and Next as she remembered seeing the style I was looking for.
With the crisis averted (I certainly would not want to get a sunburned head again), it’s time for a cup of tea 
while waiting for the gate to be posted.  So far so good.

First time travelling in an Embraer

The flight to Helsinki was pleasant enough.  The Embraer jets (operated by FlyBE) have a surprising amount of legroom compared with the A330 used on the Helsinki to Tokyo leg (seriously, there was more legroom than any other flight I've been on).  A reindeer and cheese sandwich was offered as a free snack.  Now as much as eating reindeer appealed (oh look, I ate Blitzen hahahaha), I'm not keen on cheese so that ruled the sandwich out.
The layover in Helsinki was only two hours.  This was something I was a little worried about, flight delays or delays in clearing security left me wondering if I'd have to make a Usain Bolt style dash for the gate.   As it turned out, there was no additional security between disembarking the first flight and the departure lounge.  Helsinki is a fairly small airport so it didn't take much time to find the gate for the flight to Tokyo.  With a little time to kill and the fact that I hadn't eaten all day I decided to grab some lunch.  As luck would have it, the My City Helsinki restaurant was right next to the departure gate.  There were a number of Finnish and Japanese style dishes available, it generally takes around 15 minutes from ordering to food being ready (so not a big worry if you're pushed for time).
Meatball time!

After a lunch of meatballs, mashed potato, roasted beetroot and lindenberry sauce it was time of the flight to Japan.  9 and a half hours... it's times like this I really wish I could sleep on the plane.
As luck would have it, I'm getting used to long flights and was able to pass the time quite easily.  Next stop, Japan!
Bonus - Sunrise from the skies