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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 1 ~ The Journey to Japan

7-Feb-2018 – 8-Feb-2018

For those who don’t know me, allow me to introduce myself.

And for those who do already know me, allow me to really introduce myself.

I am Kira Kyera’fa Whytefyre Resari of the Darkfox Clan, the Radiant Winged Fox, Creator of Worlds, Proxy of Fate, the Wild Card, also known as the Game Design Fox, the World-Creating Fox, or the Travelling Fox (occasionally also as the Pizza-, Cookie- and Cake-Baking Fox).

Whew, that’s quite a mouthful. Most people just know me as Kira, and that’s just fine by me =^,^=.

Anyway, I travel the world in search of my vixen, disguised as a human, going places, seeing things, and generally following wherever the wind will take me.

Last year, it took me to New Zealand. The wind has been blowing that way for some time anyway. I remember talking about it with my grandfather even before I started going to school. That was before I awoke to my true vulpine nature.

As for after my awakening… Well, let’s just say it didn’t take me long to figure out that the winds would eventually carry me to this particular country next. Some of you will already know why, and everyone else is going to find out in the next chapter. I had to wait for some time due to unforeseen circumstances, but now the time has arrived, and I am about to disembark to…

Part 1: The Journey Begins

I already took care of most of the preparations in advance. My visa has been issued, my insurances taken care of, and my flight booked. Now all that’s left is to pack my belongings.

It’s not an easy feat since I got a whopping 124 Items on my list, but thanks to sublime packing skills that tend to run in my family, I eventually manage to stuff everything into my backpacks two, which I’ve already taken for a spin around New Zealand.

Naturally, wearing that sort of harness makes me look more like a mule than a fox.

My father comes along to see me off at the airport, and before long, we are on our way, standing at the train station and waiting for the train…

…which will take us all the way to the airport.

Part 2: The Airport’s Allures

We arrive at the airport way ahead of time…

…and the check-in is quickly taken care of, and I now hold my boarding pass.

Since I’ve already travelled to New Zealand via Singapore, I decided to stop over in Bangkok this time around, which means the first leg of my journey is going to look somewhat like this:

But first, it is time to exchange the Euros I still carry on me for a fistful of Yen.

at an exchange rate of 132:1, I get a whopping 36,000¥ for my 300€. That sounds like a lot, but it should be gone faster than you’d think. Generally, though, as a measure of thumb, you can think of Yen as Euro Cents, and have a pretty accurate representation of how much stuff costs.

Anyway, now it’s time to bid my father farewell again, and make my way through the security checkpoint…

…followed by the passport control, where I this time remember to take my glasses off at the convenient fully automated control station, and thus manage to make my way through without any human intervention whatsoever. I hear people complaining about all this biometry stuff, but personally, I find it really nice at times like these.

Now, I once again find myself in the transit area, which is filled with restaurants and duty-free stores.

As my first order of business, I go and find my gate though. It is quite a ways to the north, almost at the border to the extra-high security wing for flights going to the USA I guess.

With that having been taken care of, I now have almost two hours left until check-in. Curiously, there is an unexpected way to pass time literally right next to my gate.

After that, I do now what I realize I should have done before my departure to New Zealand, and go to a good olde German restaurant…

…and indulge in some savoury German cuisine for what will most likely be the last time in a year or so. Honestly, I would have preferred something with Schwammerln and Spätzle, but I suppose a hearty steak with fries and salad will also do, accompanied by a glass of good old Spezi.

By the time I finish with all that, there’s only about half an hour or so left until boarding, and the boarding area is starting to get rather crowded.

Part 3: A Cobweb of Lights

My plane for this leg of the flight is a good old Boeing 747-400. I don’t think I’ve ever flown in one before. Even my lengthy trip to New Zealand was done aboard the more lightweight Boeing 777. That might actually make this the first time I’ve flown aboard a quad-jet plane.

Boarding starts momentarily, and within a matter of minutes, I’m aboard the plane that will once again take me halfway around the world.

Just like with Singapore Airlines, every single seat has its own display on this Thai Airways machine. However, despite the fancy remotes, I quickly find out that my options are rather limited, and nowhere near as fancy as with Singapore Airlines.

Now all that’s left is to go over the obligatory safety procedures…

…and then we’re off, roaring like thunder, racing the wind, and piercing into the clouds on steel wings of lightning blue!

If you are one to enjoy a good cloudscape, then this trip is a veritable sightseeing tour. Some people might look out of the window and see “only” clouds, but as I gaze upon the mighty messengers of heavenly deluge, I see towering mountains, sprawling floodplains, rolling hills and twisting valleys alike. Were angels to inhabit this ever, changing scenery, they would not have the need to build palaces for the sheer majesty of the ephemeral natural beauty outshines all.

Perhaps most interestingly, I get to witness a great display of multi-layered clouds. With that, it truly feels like I have entered a higher plane that has its own layer of clouds to rain down on the fluffy white ground below, while rivers of blue separate the white masses of land.

Eventually, however, there are brief gaps in the clouds, allowing me to catch glimpses of lakes and mountains below.

And then its dinnertime already. I’m having some Gai Pad Prik Gaeng, or Grean Beans with Chicken on Jasmin Rice, and although I don’t really fancy green beans, I do enjoy the dish as a whole.

Not much later, night fittingly falls as we cruise above the Black Sea...

…and as we get close to land again, I can see the lights of what must be the city of Batumi in Georgia in the distance.

Once again, it turns out that I’ve chosen the wrong side of the plane to sit on, and so as we pass over India, I do not get to see the lights of New Delhi, but only a suburb that might be Gurugram or Faridabad.

The rest of this slightly-shorter-than-normal night is rather uneventful, and so I go about getting some sleep while most of the other people in the plane set themselves up for jetlag.

Breakfast arrives while it’s still dark outside, about an hour before our landing in Bangkok as we fly across the Bay of Bengal. It’s nothing special this time, only Scrambled Eggs, Chicken Sausages and some mashed potato. At least the sausages come with some genuine Thai sauce.

Shortly thereafter, we begin our descent in pitch darkness, and only as we approach the ground do the lights of the city rise to meet us from below like a cobweb of luminous ribbons traversing the deep darkness.

Part 4: A Bangk-Robbery

And just like that, we’ve arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, 11 hours after our departure from Munich.

Well, actually, not quite. We arrived at a satellite gate, and now have to ride a rather crowded bus over to the main building for at least ten minutes. One nifty thing about the bus is that it has doors on either side, so we end up getting in on the right side and exiting on the left side. Also, did you notice that the cars were driving on the left side of the road here too? I didn’t consciously register that during the landing, but now that I’m in the bus it becomes blatantly obvious.

A short while later, we finally arrive at the main airport building…

…and while it’s not anywhere near as fancy as Singapore Changi Airport, it still strives to impress with a selection of murals…


…and pagodas.

Naturally, with this being an eastern airport, there are also drink fountains to be found all over the place.

It is about here that the incredible happens, and I end up losing a bunch of my stuff.

What happened? As I am going through yet another security screening, a pair of flustered female attendants starts making a fuss about a number of items in my luggage. Mind you that I was able to get those same items safely through the security checks of Auckland, Singapore and Munich before, yet for some reason the ladies here are being extra fussy about what they deem to be “dangerous goods”. And what exactly do they confiscate? The first item is a scissor in my first aid kit that is about as blunt as they come. Were you to try and assault someone with this, they’d be more likely to die of boredom than the scissors.

The next item is much more painful for me to lose. Ever since the beginning of my New Zealand trip, Liete – my trusty laptop – has been acting up occasionally, freezing up in such a manner that the only way to reconstitute her is take out the battery. No easy feat, since the battery is secured with a pair of teeny-tiny screws that are all but impossible to undo with my standard set of tools. For that reason, I acquired a jeweller’s screwdriver set back in Marton, New Zealand, at a shop called Mitre 10 Mega. I remember my trip there like it was yesterday. It is this treasured and functional memento that they cold-heartedly steal from me, not spending a single thought to the fact that I could probably deal more damage with a ballpoint pen (of which I happen to be carrying two) than with those teeny-tiny screwdrivers. Also, it goes without saying that Liete did not wait long to freeze up on me again after that, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, moving on now. I made it through the security check more or less unscathed, and am now inside the massive terminal hall…

..from where my flight to Tokyo Narita Airport is bound to depart in about an hour.

One thing to point out here is the interesting travelators, which have an automated voice warning scatter-brained people about the end of the travelator in a squeaky girly voice.

Soon enough, the gate opens, and we are granted admittance into the main boarding area, where we wait for boarding to begin…

…while also watching a beautiful sunrise.

Part 5: Clouds and Oceans

This time, I fly aboard a mighty Airbus A380-800, the world’s largest passenger airliner. With four engines and two fully-sized passenger decks, capable of carrying over 500 passengers in a three-class system.

Also, I have literally the last seat in the airplane: 73K, at the very back, at the very right.

On our way to the runway, we pass another one of Thai Airways’ massive Jumbo Jets…

And then it’s once again time to roar like the wind and take to the skies like an arrow of steel.

This time, my travel route leads over Thailand, Laos and Vietnam (with a view on Cambodia), and then pretty much exclusively across the Pacific Ocean, and I realize I might have been mistaken in choosing a seat on the right hand side.

Since the air is pretty humid, Cambodia is barely visible even when there are no clouds, but occasionally, some mountains or a reflection on a river below break through the haze.

For the most part, however, it’s clouds once again.

Interestingly, this plane seems to be filled primarily with Japanese, and the stewardesses speak Japanese fluently. They are surprised to hear me reply to them with my admittedly rather humble language skills when I order Udon for brunch. What are Udon? Imagine German Spätzle and Italian Pasta had an illegitimate child from a passionate affair, which was then repudiated and signed on a steamer to Japan. That should give you a pretty accurate idea (even if it’s wrong on so many levels). Anyway, I happen to like them a lot and definitely look forward to more of them.

After brunch, the lights get dimmed and the windows closed, allowing everyone to get a bit of shuteye on the flight. I, too, take up the opportunity to take a little nap, and by the time I wake up again, we’re already way over the Philippine Sea.

For linner (lunch/dinner), we have a very Japanese chicken and mushroom cream sauce tortilla roll.

Want to know just why that’s very Japanese? Well, you’ll surely find out soon, for by now, there are ships…

…and finally, land! 長崎鼻 (Long Cape Nose, probably pronounced “Choukibi”) near Choshi in the Chiba prefecture is the first part I see of Japan.

And then, after a flight a little longer than 6 hours from Bangkok, and a journey of about 22 hours from home, we’re finally beginning our descent towards Tokyo Narita Airport.

Part 6: A Japanese Welcome

Other than in Bangkok, we arrive at a main part of the terminal as opposed to a satellite. Then again, the Airport Tokyo Narita is huge, not unlike Changi Airport in Singapore (see Book I Chapter 1 ~ To Singapore and Beyond and Book I Final Chapter ~ The Tail of the Tale).

Also, unlike in Bangkok where it was like “Yay, this is an airport, deal with it!”, Tokyo Narita is considerably more hospitable.

On top of that, unlike Bangkok, which felt like a ratty old airport with a bit of Thai flair added on top of it, everything here in Tokyo Narita, even the most ordinary corridors, are filled with Japanese Elegance.

And then there’s that for all those who made the long journey without thinking of anything better to do, or made the grave mistake of bringing their children along.

Anyway, after that, it’s time to hit immigration, which is a process that takes maybe fifteen minutes. Once again, the staff is delighted to hear me speak a few words of Japanese, and I get through without any trouble.

Followed by that is the baggage claim and customs inspection – and it really is an inspection. I have to open my medium-sized orange backpack, and the customs officer takes the liberty of digging around in it a bit before telling me that everything is okay and asking me to move on.

But now for the next exciting part: I've booked my Working Holiday Experience with WorldUnite, and one of their numbers called Alex is supposed to meet me here at the exit. Will I be able to find him? Can you?

Yup, that’s him right there!

Afterwards, we get out of the Airport almost completely uninterviewed. Then again, dressing like I do, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about a Japanese camera team spotting me and asking me what brings me to Japan. Fortunately, they have an English-speaking translator with them, since my Japanese skills are not quite a match for those of the interviewer. It’s a shame that I have no idea if, when and where said interview would get aired.

By the way, did I mention that Narita Airport is MEGA-FREAKING-HUGE?

As such, I guess I shouldn’t be too intimidated by its three different types of stations. Fortunately, Alex is there to guide me, and we board the Keisei Metro Line, and since this is the final stop, we have no trouble grabbing a seat.

One thing you might notice right away is that there are exclusively lengthwise seats here. That is a common feature on all local transit trains, and the reason for it should become apparent all too soon.

All the more reason to be happy to have a seat. The seats, by the way, are significantly more comfortable here than on German local transit trains, and remind me more of long distance trains. That also allows me to turn around and take some videos of us zooming through the suburbs of Tokyo (yes, I know, it’s called a Metro, it’s technically a subway, but outside of the main city, they still run above ground. And since Narita is even further from Tokyo than Munich Airport is from Munich, there’s quite a lot ground to cover. By the time we finally arrive in Tokyo proper, the sun has already set behind the mountains to the west.

Regrettably, Alex has had a long day and dozes off in the train, causing us to miss the stop where we would have needed to change trains. More specifically, I end up asking him “So, at which station do we need to change trains?” as the trains is about to depart a station, and Alex looks up startled just as the doors close: “Ah! This one!” As a result, I get to see Japanese Problem solving skills in action. Unlike an European, who would probably just have backtracked or picked an alternate route from a network map, Alex proceeds to the ticket gate at the next major crossover station, which happens to be 西船橋(Western Ship Bridge, pronounced Nishi-Funebashi), and asks one of the駅員 (Station Attendants, pronounced Eki-in) about the best way to get to our destination of木場 (Lumberyard, pronounced Kiba). The Eki-in quickly looks up a number of routes, and tells us that there’s an express train running soon which would be the fastest way for us to get to Kiba. He then quickly adjusts our train tickets, and we’re good to go, all without having to leave the complex of Nishi-Funebashi station.

And thus, we board the Tozai Rapid Line, which somehow manages to skip some of the stations of the subway line, and almost makes a beeline for Kiba. Fortunately, this train isn’t very full either.

It’s still a 15 minute walk from the Kiba station to the share house where I will be staying, and along the way, Alex gives me a very brief tour of Ito-Yokado (also known as イトーヨカド in Japanese), the local department store, which is literally exactly on the way.

Afterwards, we continue on to the share house, which is really well-hidden in a backroad and about as nondescriptive as it gets. At this point, I'm really grateful about being picked up by Alex, because I am pretty certain that trying to find this place on my own would have been… a considerable challenge, especially without cell phone coverage.

It is an agreeable eight-bed dormitory room that awaits me here, and after Alex gives all of us a quick tour of the surroundings, I am quick to drop onto my bunk and get some rest.

I have arrived in this strange new place. The place I’ve always wanted to go. Now I'm here.

I wonder what adventures await me in this place.

Stay tuned and find out in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!