As the previous entry stated, my name is Nathan Purmort and I am an electrical engineering graduate student at the University of New Hampshire as well as an employee of Project54. Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany a friend of mine on vacation to Japan. Here’s the story.
It all started back in late September when a good friend of mine, Shin, approached me saying, “I’m heading to Japan over winter break, wanna come?” Now this sounds like a great offer, but there’s a lot to consider when someone pops this sort of question on you. First off, I had never been off the continent before. Sure I’ve been all over the country: Wyoming, Florida, Michigan, even Canada, but I’d never been 10,000 miles from home in a country where their native language consists of two alphabets and hundreds of other symbols. Now, this wouldn’t be much of a story if I declined the invitation, so as you may have inferred, I jumped at the chance and we immediately put the plans in place.
My first flight departed Logan Airport at 8:10am, connecting at Detroit Wayne County Airport and continuing on to Narita, Japan’s largest airport; my day had begun at 5 and little did I know it wouldn’t be over for another 20 hours. Now, if you’ve ever been on a plane, you’re aware of how spacious and comfortable they can be: I was completely unprepared for fourteen hours of this. The longest I’ve probably ever sat still before this was the drive out to Detroit, but at least in a car if you want to get out to stretch you don’t need a parachute to do so.
I eventually made it to Narita Airport and met up with the two friends I’d be staying with – Shin and Curtis – both of whom had left Boston around the same time as me but on two different flights.
My first real cultural misunderstanding came before we even got out of the airport. Riding the escalator down to the train station, I stood next to one of my friends, talking with the guys about their flights when a man walked down the escalator right at me. I was quickly whisked over to the left side by Curtis, who has spent plenty of time in Japan on business. Evidently, everyone stands on the left side of the escalator (they also drive and walk on the left) to allow the pedestrians who wish to walk on the escalator the room to do so on the right side.
We took the Keisei Skyliner train from the airport to Ueno Station and then took a taxi to Asakusabashi, where we were staying. I was very excited to see the auto-opening Japanese taxi doors in action – the driver pushes a button and the door opens automatically. In fact, many of the devices usually requiring human interaction are automated in Tokyo; building doors and crosswalk signals are two other examples.
The next leg of our adventure involved finding our apartment from where the taxi dropped us off. Why didn’t it just drop us at our apartment you say? Well, Tokyo has a very…interesting method of addressing their buildings. Normally, you would just locate the street and the building number and maybe apartment number/letter and you’d be there. Nope, that’s too easy; instead, Tokyo’s system involves finding an area in the city (ku), then an area within that area, then a group of city blocks (chome), then a specific block, then a building on that block. A good example can be found here.
We eventually found the apartment and used the combination we were emailed to get in. Upon opening the door, we realized there was something lost in translation. This place was far from the “Weekly Mansion” it was advertised as.
As small as it was, it ended up working out really well for us as it was in a great location – near a major train station (Akihabara), and it was pretty inexpensive too.
Once we got all unpacked, it was time for dinner. I was still in awe of my new surroundings, so I wasn’t much help when we went out to hunt down a restaurant. I was even more surprised when I was led into a small unassuming entry way with a sliding door. It had a blue cloth banner hanging above the door with 4-5 characters written on it; apparently the name of the restaurant. We opened the door and walked in to see five people sitting around a small bar with all three of the tables behind them empty. The three of us grabbed a seat at the bar amidst the stares. Relying on Shin’s Japanese to converse with the people next to us and to order (this wouldn’t be the last time), we ordered food and Sake and chatted with some of the locals. After a great meal and a long day of travel, we were all more than ready to get some sleep.