Konnichiwa! Well, we have arrived in Tokyo. Overall, I'd say the trip went very smoothly. It began with us saying goodbye to our Alexandria apartment before heading to National Airport. We managed to confine our packing to two small wheeled bags and two large backpacks, and it was validating when a United Airlines attendant complimented us on our efficiency!
A brief layover in Chicago allowed for last phone calls and pizza, then we were on our way. We were surprised at how many nationalities were represented on the flight and decided Tokyo must be a big hub for flights going to eastern Europe. The flight was fairly uneventful, though, and even touched down in Narita about 30 minutes early. We breezed through customs, where they take electronic finger prints and a picture of each individual, and managed to withdraw some Yen and purchase tickets for the train into the city. Opting for the cheaper, local train allowed us to see a glimpse of rush hour in the Tokyo suburbs. There were plenty of people who looked to be coming from work (both men and women), as well as many children in uniforms, but for the entire hour-plus journey, we were the only non-Japanese that we saw on the crowded cars. The pattern continued on the busy subway we took once within the city limits to the station nearest our Japanese-style hotel, or ryokan.
It wasn't until we emerged from the subway that we hit our first snag. We knew from the guidebook that the streets in Tokyo are not really named or labeled as they are in the United States, but we didn't realize how clueless this would render us. We stared at a busy 5-way intersection clutching our directions we had carefully printed from Google maps ahead of time, but no matter how we looked at it we simply could not do any better than guess at which way to go. Ben asked a man near the station, who pondered carefully and then gave us definitive directions, which turned out to be wrong. Another man even pulled out a pocket magnifying glass to help study our map, but no dice. With dark clouds looming, we jumped at the chance when a taxi happened to pull down our side street. Even the driver struggled to find Andon Ryokan on his GPS, but we made it just in time for the rain to start.
The ryokan is very cool, a modern interpretation of this Japanese tradition. After a rejuvenating shower we hit the streets again to find dinner, which proved much easier with the kind hotel manager's map and instructions (we really are very close to the subway, too). Dinner proved another challenge, though this we had expected. We muddled our way through at a tiny sushi bar with the animated owners and another diner who knew some broken English. We were able to order vegetarian tempura (including bright orange regional squash and breaded egg yolks) and some fish with sushi rice. The owners threw in some delicious miso soup with egg and daikon radish, possibly because our Japanese is so pitiful! In any case, we are learning constantly and excited to become more comfortable with the customs, language, and food.
Tomorrow we wake up early to climb Mt. Fuji...so now it's off to bed!