As the plane circled the runway, my heart began to race in anticipation of the day to come. At this point, my adrenaline was still running on full blast, and though I had very little sleep for the past 24 hours, I felt more awake than I had been in a long time.
The plane approached the tarmac as I searched for an appropriate song on my ipod to accentuate the experience. I alternated between this and aiming my camera out the window to capture some of the approach. I slightly regretted not creating a playlist for the trip as I find a soundtrack can greatly amplify the feeling and can even bring you back to that point in time whenever you listen to that particular song.
Eventually the plane landed, and docked at the airport. We grabbed our carry-ons and proceeded to continue out the plane and down the corridor towards the customs line. They had those nifty moving walkways you only ever see at airports, and walking over them felt like passing one of the speed boosts in Mario Kart.
Unfortunately, our expedient travel down the long hallway was cut short by the MASSIVE customs line. There was a massive bottleneck of hundreds of people, all waiting to GET INTO the long roped off and snaking que to the customs booths. I was walking with my good friend T towards the mass of people, and as we analyzed the situation, we decided it would be best to sneak past the main chokepoint and try to cut a little deeper into the line. Using our amazing charm and blatant disregard for social etiquette, we gaijin-smashed our way through the crowd and struck up a conversation with the nearest fellow foreigner who didn’t look like he would beat the crap out of us for cutting through the line. Unfortunately, at this point, we were still an hour or so from clearing customs. It felt like waiting at the longest line for the newest and coolest ride at Wonderland, except this time the ride was Japan.
Once we passed customs, the rest of the circuit through the airport went by rather quickly and painlessly. T and I descended the elevator to the baggage claims area and I somehow managed to find my first luggage right away and the second one not five minutes later. I decided to hang around a bit while I waited for my friends. Unfortunately, T lost his camera and went back to try to find it, so I had to keep going without him through the next round of clearance.
As soon as we exited the luggage claims area to the spot where people were waiting with signs for their loved ones, we were immediately escorted and moved along by personnel from JET. There was a person holding a JET sign every 5 meters or so telling us to travel along a specified path to make sure that the JETs wouldn’t stray off or get lost in the crowd. It was actually quite flattering, as there was a sense of this ‘being a big deal’, so to speak since we were being escorted and directed as curious observers watched us pass by.
Finally, we got to the exit of the airport where there was an open air bridge to the busses waiting at the parking lot. As soon as I stepped outside, it was literally like walking into a wall. The heat and humidity was quite high, however it actually wasn’t AS bad as I was expecting. Several years ago when I went to Cuba, stepping out of the plane felt like walking into an oven – now THAT was hot and sticky.
As we walked through the bridge and down towards the buses, we were whisked away by even more JET people. It was here I had an opportunity to make my first purchase at a Japanese vending machine. I wish I could tell you there was something particularly exciting about it, but it was a relatively uninteresting affair – I bought a tasty grape drink, and the vending machine thanked me for my purchase. Oh wait, that IS new.
So we hopped on the busses (there were actually probably at least half a dozen all lined up for the JETs) and made the 1.5 hour journey to Tokyo. In between glancing out the window like a kid peering into a candy store, I tried to steal a few Z’s. After awhile, I was knocked out for a bit, and when I finally came to, this is the sight outside that lay in front of me:
I took a lot of video (which I can’t edit until I buy a macbookpro), so I only have a few pictures of the Tokyo skyline from the bus. However the first time I saw Tokyo with my own eyes will remain burned in my memory forever. It was dusk, so the whole city was bathed in a purple hue. As we approached the city from the highway, It became apparent how vast the Tokyo megatropolis really is.
In conjunction with my lack of sleep and sense of awe, this point in time felt like I was literally in a dream. I pinched myself to make sure I was actually awake, because this scene really did feel almost ethereal.