Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Autumn Aurora in Japan - Day 1 - Day 2

Tokyo                                                                                          Japan

Tuesday 4th October 2016

Finally, months of saving has brought me to my most adventurous trip I had long awaited for; the fantastic world of Japan. I had a mixture of anticipation and yet disbelief at the thought of taking this brilliant adventure. What was even better was that I would be sharing this experience with my cousin Craig who absolutely adores Japan and its culture. As he had been to Japan 4 years ago, he would be a great traveller and asset to this trip. Just after midday, we made our way to Newcastle airport thanks to Craig’s partner Heather. She stayed with us for a coffee after we checked in and dropped our bags off talking about our trip passing the waiting time well. Unfortunately, for Craig and Heather they had to part ways, as it was time to take our leave through customs. A while went by as we flew through customs realising we didn’t have a long time to wait to board our plane. It was still playing on my mind that we were heading for Japan and this was the very start of a long journey. We were sitting in gate 3 looking on at our British airways flight bound for London Heathrow which would be the shortest flight out of the three.

We felt like the odd ones out amongst the majority of passengers as they were wearing business suits whereas we looked like a couple of idiot travellers. It seemed like all systems go once we were boarding the plane immediately grabbing our seats raring to get going; speaking of which we were soon moving straight for the runway. We were taking off towards the sea but unfortunately, I wouldn’t get to see much as I was sitting in the aisle seat. It would have been nice to see my hometown become distance but I would only be on this flight for under an hour. We were soon racing up the runway ready to start this epic trip and we were soon off the ground saying goodbye to our home for 3 weeks. We were gaining height quite quickly flying above the clouds already receiving the most British looking snacks I had ever seen of crisps and biscuits. No sooner were we up in the air than beginning descent down into London; if only our next flight would be this quick I thought as we hit with a hard thud to the ground arriving at the huge Heathrow airport. I was awe struck with the number of planes large and small around each gate and terminal. We soon stopped at our gate making our way out for baggage reclaim. The whole place seemed quite manic but, we knew what we were doing; not doing bad so far being a couple of idiot travellers.

Once retrieving our bags our next step was to find terminal 2 but to get to it we had to use the Heathrow express. Reluctantly we had found the right place but it took quite a long walk to get to making use of the flat escalators along the very long corridors. By the time we had arrived at the underground station the train was about to leave so we rushed on for the 5-minute journey to the terminal. I knew we would be riding trains in Japan so why not start off in London I thought and then we came to our stop. As soon as we entered the terminal, we were immediately confused on where to drop our bags off. We eventually figured it out as well as sorting our baggage transfer out for the third flight. Once we received our boarding passes, we immediately made our way to the departure lounge. We thought we had enough time to have a look around but the truth was we didn’t as we had to head straight for our gate which to no surprise was at the far end yet again; why they are always at the other end is beyond me but we eventually made it.

Yet again we would be the odd ones out as the majority were Chinese passengers returning home. This and looking at the information board was when it hit me as to where we were heading too; Beijing, China. This would be the longest of our flying times with a total of 10 hours. This would be a first for everything for me; my first long haul flight, first time in Asia and first time on a huge plane; my god it was huge as well when I caught sight of it. As soon as we stepped aboard, we had to walk through business class, which looked amazing with seats at an angle, plenty of legroom with blankets and slippers. 

I claimed my seat in economy, which was good enough for Craig and I. This was when I caught sight of the monstrous wing to my right-hand side; I couldn’t believe how far it reached out. The inside of the plane was huge with 9 rows of seats and as I looked above the seats I could see how long the plane was too; first class and business class seemed like miles away. Yet again, we were raring to go on this huge plane to Beijing and once the doors were shut, there was no turning back; we were on our way to the runway.

There was quite a queue of planes waiting to take off so it would be a while before we finally lined up and thundered down the runway. The power coming from the engines were immense throwing us right into our seats and for some bizarre reason, we left the ground powering up to higher altitude. Even in the air we could feel the power of the engines pushing us up higher as we bid farewell to good old Britain. What a relief it was to see small screens behind each seat set with films, games and even a virtual map of the stats of the flight, which I loved and took advantage of as soon as we were able to. I felt so relaxed straight away watching films as it was smooth flying with the odd bit of turbulence; Craig seemed to be enjoying this relaxation too. By this point, we had already passed European countries already flying over towards Russia. Life was great especially when we received some good food and dessert provided by the flight attendants which were delicious; the food I mean. Hours went by as I watched quite a few films at this point still flying over the Russian Federation and then my screen froze for a very long time.

In the meantime, I pressed my face against the window to see if there was anything good to look at. Immediately, I became mesmerised by the bright glittering stars feeling as though I was flying through space at the sight of Orion’s belt right in front of me. It felt as though I was eye level with it and not looking up to it; what a breathtaking sight it was and it seemed as though everyone was missing out as they were fast asleep. It wouldn’t be long until I would be joining them for the next hour or two.

A very long while went still with constant smooth flying and then once I woke up, I noticed daylight creeping majestically over the horizon in front of us creating a purple/orange glow towards the Far East. Despite this beautiful view, the air hostess was persistent that I kept my window cover down for other passengers sleeping; I did manage to peek through now and again. Yet more hours went by until finally we began our smooth descent down towards Beijing. By this point, everyone was awake with all the covers up looking down onto the Chinese mountains far below us. It was quite foggy approaching the airport too not at all sure whether it was actual fog or pollution. A familiar thud to the ground brought us to Beijing and once again, I was in disbelief that this was happening; that I was now in China though not for a long time, as we would need to get to our final plane.

Eventually the plane came to a stop where there were a couple of busses waiting for us all and what a relief it was to finally get out of my seat given the fact I never stood up once for the whole 10 hours resulting in my legs feeling like jelly. I was standing on Chinese soil; or tarmac so to speak and it was at this point when I caught sight of the humungous plane we were on; what an incredible machine it was to bring us all this way from London. With Craig and I squashed in the transport bus, we made haste for terminal 3, coming to terms that we were 8 hours ahead of home. We found it quite easy to find our way through the terminal upon arrival heading straight through customs despite Craig and I feeling a bit tired. I managed to get through customs with 3 for 3 clearances in all airports we had been at whereas Craig had to be searched due to having coins in his pocket. Once again, as we passed through customs we didn’t have enough time to look around so we quickly walked to our gate.

They were beginning to board when we arrived so we soon cleared through security and onto the smaller plane to our final destination. Craig and I wouldn’t be sitting together on this flight so I sat pretty much at the back of the plane in the aisle seat again for the 3-and-a-half-hour flight to Tokyo. We left the gate heading for the runway but soon after, an announcement came out saying that we would have to return to the gate due to the fact there was a strong typhoon over southern Japan, which was along our flight path of course. Great we thought but then shortly after another announcement came on stating we were about to take off. I was quite happy about that due to the fact I didn’t want to hang around Beijing airport any longer and I’m sure Craig was feeling the same way who was far ahead of me. We gained a lot of speed and back up in the air we went for the third and final time leaving China for Japan. This flight was a lot bumpier than the previous flight but I didn’t care so long as it got us to our destination in one piece.

Over time, the turbulence gradually subsided and so we could all relax for a moment enjoying our food provided by the air flight attendants. Up ahead throughout the journey, I could hear a child screaming and to me it actually sounded like a mixture of a monkey and a seagull; god knows how Craig put up with it as he was practically sitting right in front of him. The flight seemed to take longer than expected to approach Tokyo and then I realised we had to be diverted a long way from the typhoon of course. However, we were beginning our descent into Haneda airport, which was when my excitement built up despite my tiredness. I could see patches of light at the window from what I could see from the aisle seat and we were close to the ground. This was the hardest thud to the ground out of the three flights but we slowed down finally arriving in Tokyo. I had made it, I couldn’t believe I was half way around the world and I couldn’t wait to explore this fascinating place.

For now, we were all leaving the plane where I met up with Craig inside the airport. He didn’t really look that happy due to the fact that the screaming kid I heard sat right behind him and was kicking his seat pretty much the whole journey. We eventually made it to baggage reclaim and I had to go to the toilet. This was when I got my first sight of Japanese culture/technology; the toilet. It looked futuristic with a remote-control system for flushing, water sprays and other peculiar settings to which I was afraid to touch. By the time I returned to Craig, he had our rucksacks with him forgetting how heavy they were when we placed them over our shoulders. Out of the airport, we received our entry stamp then we had to think about getting to our first place of stay.

We would have to use the local bus to get to a place called Tachikawa, which was a good 41km away to the West. We had to purchase a bus ticket before boarding so with Craig taken the lead, we managed to get our correct tickets and stand at the correct bus stand.  This was when I got my first taste of Japanese air, still in disbelief I was here. We had to wait for about 15 minutes but what was great was there was an assistant who would place your bags in front of the bus stop without us having to carry them; all we had to do was stand in the line and wait for our correct bus. It eventually arrived and we climbed aboard with a few others but once more, we were the odd ones out. We got under way making short pick-ups too until we eventually ate up the miles. I got my first happy moment actually just riding around through the busy traffic and new sights around me of huge buildings, which were dominating the land. Whilst riding through the tunnels, sleep got the better of me as I drifted off for the next 30 minutes.

By the time I woke up, we were closing in on Tachikawa. Immediately I was amazed at the brilliant sight of lit up streets and elaborate Japanese signs and anime on most of the buildings. Eventually we arrived at our stop just outside of the palace hotel realising how windy, humid and wet it was in this urban jungle. The area we were at was so quiet, we would have heard a pin drop; all we could hear was the rustling of the nearby trees as well as distant cars weaving through the city area. At this point, we were trying to contact our host called Tomoko; with no luck, we decided to wander around the streets looking for a quick snack as well as admiring the area along the way. We eventually returned to the palace hotel and we both sat on the ground like a couple of homeless Geordies. Bizarrely, that was the moment I felt quite peaceful due to the quietness and the warm wind with nobody in sight.

After numerous attempts contacting Tomoko, she finally answered the call. She was picking us up very soon so we headed over to the front of the palace hotel awaiting pick up joking on to pass the time. What a relief it was when she pulled up right in front of us as we greeted ourselves as well as placing our heavy rucksacks in the boot of her car. We left for the very short drive to her home where we would spend the next 4 nights already wondering what life was going to be like during them nights. Craig would have a good talk with her sometimes in Japanese which she and even I was impressed.

We finally came to a stop at her home which was hidden away quite well as we were escorted straight to her front door. We entered into a western type house where we immediately removed our shoes and replacing them with slippers. Up the stairs we went and straight to our room and then I realised we were going to be sleeping on bunk beds with me claiming the top bunk. She also gave us a quick tour of her home as well as showing us how to use the facilities. She eventually left us to it stating that she would provide us dinner later on in the evening. I then realised the top bunk I had claimed so eagerly happened to be pink and Craig was blue; plus, it looked quite difficult to climb the ladders which were next to the wall. Not to worry though, I managed to get up at this old age of 26. We unpacked a few things feeling quite relaxed and then it was time to head down to see what Tomoko had on offer for us.

We headed down into a small dining area with a very large wooden table where our food was already waiting for us. It looked very filling despite it being rice and meat along with tofu and a dessert of something called mochi. I was reluctant to try it but I did and quite enjoyed the whole thing to be honest. It was quite funny too trying to hold the chopsticks correctly as I hadn’t mastered that technique yet. We were talking to Tomoko a lot about our flights as well as previous ventures until our food was finished.

We thanked Tomoko for the amazing food she provided for us at such a late hour and then we headed off to bed for the first time in a long time. The tail wind from the typhoon was quite strong through the night as a lot of objects were rattling outside. We didn’t care though as we were very tired from the epic journey to Japan and we both drifted off to sleep raring for our first full day to begin.
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