Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 1 in Japan

Japan 5:15 PM JST

I have been in Japan for about 24 hours and it is always amazing to me how no matter how much time passes between visits; that nothing seems to change in terms of how I feel when I am here.  It always feels as if I have always lived here and my life in the US is but a dream…and when I am in New Jersey, the reverse seems true.
In any case, I am happy to be home and with no work or homework to do – I am truly ‘anshin shiteimasu’ - which means at peace…
The trip here was fine and while I was worried about the heightened security imposed just the day before due to the crazy guy in Detroit, I really wasn’t affected by it in the US or in Japan.  I had to arrive at the airport an hour earlier – 3 hours instead of the usual 2 – but with my iPhone kindle app loaded up with 6 books; the time passed quickly as I sipped my Starbucks green tea latte and read through “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik.  I started the second book in the series at the end of my flight so I think I will get through the other two in the series during my time here and on the flight back.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:10 AM EST and all was going smoothly until we were just ready to take off.  Suddenly the captain informed us that there was a person who “decided that that they wanted off the plane”, and so we had to wait about 20 minutes for their luggage to be removed from the plane. 
We then were ready to take off again when the captain got back on the intercom and asked the entire plane for a doctor, nurse or EMT. When none identified themselves as such, the paramedics were called and so we waited some more.
We were then cleared a third time after the sick passenger was taken off the plane and the third time was the charm so we were off.
The flight was uneventful, very smooth and though I was pretty much stuck in my seat for the entire 13.5 hour flight, save for one trip to the bathroom; it was fine.  My seat mates were Chinese and very quiet but they ended up sleeping for the majority of the flight, rousing only to eat and then going back into hibernation.  I may switch to an aisle seat for the return flight...
The airplane seat backs were all fitted with a touch screen entertainment system with movies, television shows, music and flight status.  There was a huge selection of global international entertainment so I was able to watch “Departures” (okuribito in Japanese) a Japanese movie that won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.  It was a beautiful movie and yes, I bawled my eyes out in parts LOL.
I then watched the Bollywood film “Fashion” by Madhur Bhandarkar and starring Priyanka Chopra who is just stunningly gorgeous.
The flight landed about 40 minutes late and then I pretty much zipped through debarkation – once I had my luggage, I just showed the customs official my passport and told him I was visiting my mother and family and he just waved me through immediately without checking a single bag.  John gave me a Cuban cigar for Papa and I wasn’t sure if it would be an issue (Cuban cigars aren’t illegal in Japan) and luckily it wasn’t.
Mama and Papa were waiting for me at the gate and I had been texting my brother (at work) on his cell as soon as I landed – the iPhone is indeed global and found the local carrier DoCoMo & SoftBank as soon as I switched off the airplane mode after we landed. The fact that I can text in both Japanese and English at will is awesome – I love, love,love the iPhone!

We grabbed a bite at a Soba Noodle shop on the 4th floor at Narita Airport and I had delicious tsukimi soba (moon viewing soba) noodles served cold and warm hijiki seaweed rice with hot mugs of mugi-cha (barley tea).  Truly delicious!

 (Tsukimi soba - Moon viewing soba)
There was a African-American Navy guy who came in after us and sat next to us with his wife (or girlfriend) who had just arrived for a visit – her first to Japan, and she didn’t seem too happy about it.
She ordered blindly and was served soba noodles with a dipping sauce and a mug of soup broth to sip – my mother ended up showing her how to eat the noodles since she had no idea what to do with the fresh knob of wasabi next to her noodles nor the dipping sauce or sipping soup.  She seemed happier to be eating the noodles once they had some flavor.
After dinner, I changed my currency over to yen and we were off to the house.  I slept the entire way and when I woke up we were home.
Ake-chan (my brother’s wife) and her mother (who I call Ake-Mama) stopped for a visit about an hour after my arrival and I was able to give them the gifts I brought which seemed to go over very well. 
My brother called after they left and apologized for not stopping but he had just gotten home from work and it was about 11:00 PM JST so I told him I would see him whenever he was able to stop by – he has such a difficult schedule, I really feel for him and would rather he got a good night’s sleep.  He is off for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so we will have plenty of time to catch up and spend time together.  Besides – he and Ake-chan are taking me to Kyoto for three days next week.
I slept well and spent today just being home and going for a couple short walks.  Mama made a great breakfast as usual – hot rice, hot clear broth with seaweed and sesame, ginger chicken, mentaiko (cod roe), sautéed lotus root, mapo tofu with pork, spicy sautéed perilla leaves, umeboshi and her delicious nukazuke pickles of fresh turnip and cucumber. 
Ake-chan and Ake-Mama stopped by for coffee shortly after breakfast and during their visit I showed them Skype – we called Ed and also Ed’s mother, Mom H.; which my mother was over the moon about.  She and Papa were so, so happy to see and talk to Mom H. that their faces were just beaming.  They both adore Mom H. and the feeling is certainly returned in kind.  Mom often says they lived closer together and I have no doubt that if they lived close, that the moms would be fast friends – they seem to share so many similar thoughts about life and family.  I am truly very blessed and happy to have both wonderful women in my life.
After we called Mom H., Ake and Ake-Mama left and then we called Darline and Peet in Anguilla.  Danny and Aubry were there as well so Mama was able to see and talk to her oldest grandson and then meet his girlfriend Aubry for the first time.  She was (and still is) beaming with happiness.  It is so good to see her laughing and smiling all day.  Skype is as magical a thing to her as the iPhone.


I remembered this area with no problems and went to the book store where I bought two great cookbooks on wagashi or Japanese sweets. I stopped by the liquor store and bought my brother a nice bottle of Kageshima Imo Shochu (similar to potato vodka), then the tea shop where I picked up some roasted mugi-cha (barley tea) and then finally went to my favorite wagashi-ya or Japanese Sweet store called Sakakura-ya and bought some yummy daifuku mame and kuri yokan.

(daifuku mame)

My brother is stopping by in a couple of hours so I will get to see him today – for now, KBS is broadcasting a Korean Epic movie set in the same timeframe as Japan’s Samurai feudal era.
Papa  and Mama both love these movies – as do I – so off to watch the show!!

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