This is going to be the first in a series of long-ish postings about What I Did On My Holidays in Japan. Part diary, part polemic, part opinion and mostly incoherent, based on scribbled notes, pictures and my swiss-cheese memory. Bear with me, onegai shimasu?
Day one and two -- on the road and in the air.
My trip to Japan started at four in the morning of the 13th of August with me standing in the cold grey Scottish drizzle at a bus stop wearing a leather jacket and a kilt and waiting for the bus to Edinburgh airport. The weather report said it would be about 13 Celsius around then but it felt colder. Note that temperature; it's important and there may be a quiz later. Also note the jacket. I never wore it again during my stay in Japan. If I'd known what was coming I wouldn't have bothered taking it with me.
The big blue bus came and whisked me off to the airport where I checked in and found a kind lady who took the first picture of my trip, a pictorial record of me in my kilt. When I examined it later I looked blurry around the edges; what was in store for me? I felt excited and apprehensive at the same time.
A flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning light went off without problems and I hung around until about noon local time before boarding the Air France A340 that would whisk me off to Narita airport some 80km east of Tokyo. The flight was long and I didn't get much of the sleep I had promised myself, but eighteen hours after I had started moving that morning the plane's wheels contacted Japanese tarmac and we were taxiing past a sign reading "Narita" picked out in greenery on a nearby embankment. And it was still only about six in the morning even if it was a day later, on the 14th. Urkle.
Customs and Immigration went off without a hitch although my teddy-bear Berk in my suitcase triggered some sort of detector and he had to be shown to the Customs inspector before I was allowed to proceed. Pausing only to get another picture of me and the Kilt for the record, it was on to the train station!
Being a Cheap Bastard I had decided not to start up my 14-day Japan Rail pass immediately on entry to the country and so I went for the cheapest rail tacket from the airport to Tokyo, the 1000yen Keisei line train and not the expensive 4000yen Narita Express. After an hour or more of stopping at small local stations as office workers and schoolkids (scored my first sailor fuku uniform on the journey) got on and off we arrived in Keisei Ueno station in Tokyo.
Because I knew I'd end up there I'd internet-booked a hotel room in the Ueno area for the night in a place called the First City Hotel. I'd printed out a map and directions to this hotel although (with the exception of the Worldcon in Yokohama) I'd not pre-booked any other hotels as I'd had a good idea I'd be changing my plans a lot, going commando (and so it turned out).
After a bit of a wander, goggling at the buildings and the shops I found the hotel, booked in and dumped my bags and then showered the sweat off. Oh, did I mention it was hot? No? Sorry.
Remember the temperature when I left Edinburgh twenty hours before? It was now 30 Celsius and still only mid-morning. I kicked the room's airconditioning up a notch and tried to sleep but something inside me was shouting "Get up! You're wasting valuable touristing time!" Eventually I rolled out of bed and went touristing.
Ueno Park. It's well-known to some English-speaking visitors to Japan for an odd reason. It's right next to the two main Ueno train stations -- indeed the Keisei Ueno station where I arrived in Tokyo is built under the eastern edge of the park itself. The reason it's famous is because of Pimsleur's Language Teaching courses, specifically the Japanese Beginners 1 course. Around module five or six of the tapes the eager student is taught how to ask directions to Ueno Park and Ueno railway station. During this question and answer session they discover the park is located next to the station. And so it proved.
It was now just after noon and it was hot, hotter than the cooler morning when it was only 30 Celsius. I bought my first cold drink from a Japanese vending machine (I was destined to buy a lot more over the following month). It was peach-flavoured, thirst-quenching and quite pleasant although I never found another machine that sold it again. The vending machine was slightly odd, as many vending machines are in Japan. This one was built into a bamboo fence, and to camouflage it to some extent it was itself covered in bamboo strakes.
Ueno park is full of trees, fountains, statues and homeless derelicts trying to sleep on the benches despite the heat. And cicadas. The noise from these insects was loud and quite penetrating.
I also scored my first koban in Ueno park -- a koban is a small police station where a few local officers are based, their bicycles parked neatly outside when they're not out tagging badly-parked scooters and cars or flagging down speeders. The Ueno park koban was... spectacular, with big pointy bits reminiscent of an industrial metal sculpture. Somewhat disconcerting. I took pictures.
Digression -- I bought a new digital camera for the trip and you can assume if I'm describing something in detail I probably took a picture (and possibly more than one) of it. I'll sort them out and make the better ones available on the Web. Eventually.
The heat, exhaustion and hunger were getting to me by now and I was starting to hallucinate, so I headed back to the hotel where I tried their iced coffee, grabbed a snack from a convenience store and then fell into bed in the early evening and finally slept. End of day one.
Oh, the kilt? I was still wearing it as I wandered the streets of Ueno. I never saw a Japanese person react to me wearing it in any way whatsoever. Inscrutable or what? You be the judge.