Tokyo Day(s) 0: December 28-30, 2019

A summary of the days leading up to my first night in Tokyo for my research expedition!

I want to start blogging daily to chat about my trip - both what happened and what I have planned to happen! And yesterday was huge for me, so this first post is gonna be really long. I'm actually gonna throw a TOC in here right now.

Yesterday was partly so huge because it was actually multiple days. December 28th (Saturday), 29th (Sunday), and 30th (Monday) all kind of blended together in my mind due to time zone shenanigans making the 29th mostly disappear and my not sleeping on the night of the 28th.

So let me try to collect my thoughts on all this...

December 28th: preparation day

Saturday was a huge, huge day. I knew I was going to meet with Ryo-san's family and I also had to do all my packing (having not bothered with it earlier due to sickness.)

I woke up late (11:30) due to sickness, saw that Ryo-san had suggested going to HARBS (thankfully very close!) at noon and rushed off to get there at top speed. And along the way I got a message from my father. Describing that episode here would take away from the joyful, excited tone of this post, and so I will describe it in its own post which can be appropriately bittersweet-sorrowful-happy.

It turned out that Ryo-san hadn't seen my message, so I had plenty of time to finish dealing with that - and then we ended up having time to meet after all! Ryo-san and his family, Satoko-san and the adorable Rin-san, were just absolutely wonderful people and I'm so glad I met them.

We talked a lot about what I'd be doing in Japan and when. How I need to get a visa in order to stay, and I'll almost certainly need a company to sponsor me. And there I learned about the Highly Skilled Visa Program which I'd up to that point only heard about in vaguery. The idea that I might be able to get permanent residency within a year was really exciting! No matter what I end up deciding for my future, whether it's living in Japan full time or moving elsewhere or returning to the US (and right now it's the former that I'm leaning toward), this makes my life much easier.

And I learned about japan-dev and tokyodev. I had heard in the past thanks to Nico that Japan had a lot of IT jobs available, but this was the first time I'd actually seen the possibilities and resources available to me. And it got me really excited!

Then I went home and talked to my friends about the thing with my father, about life in the LGBTQ+ world, and about our respective futures.

I cried when we talked about missing each other when our time zones change and this happened, letting the strong wordless bond I felt with my friends at that moment take (emoji) form.

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Oh, and I also packed, but mostly after midnight when I was switching my body to Japan time. Thanks to the timely intervention of an apple, I was able to keep going through the night!

December 29th: preflight

At 7:15 AM I apologized to my cat/house-sitter for leaving the apartment messy, kissed my cat goodbye, dragged my two suitcases out the door and hopped in a cab to get to Bryant Park and pick up Nico. It didn't quite work out as planned - very few cabs were around that early, so it took me longer than expected to GET a cab, and Nico's subway was delayed and she couldn't meet us, and the cab didn't want to wait for her so I got dumped out one long and one short block away from where she was... but fortunately, I was able to get another cab almost immediately after Nico and I met. The last blessing from New York before I left for Tokyo for a month...

Nico is honestly such a lifesaver. I'm so glad that I not only have her as a friend, but as a companion on this trip. We had such a blast chatting in the cab and wandering through the security lines. Commenting on how we were lesser than those special premium people because we were economy, having to go down to our own economy floor and wait on long lines, only for it to be revealed that I had a premium plus ticket the whole time and was clearly a superior human... Laughing about how we each struggled with hearing our respective languages... What could have been moments of anxious anticipation turned instead into relaxed joy and companionship.

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This photo is going to be one of my favorite memories of this year, I can already tell.

In any case, in the end we did end up boarding. I waited to board with Nico, but in the end we were on opposite sides of the plane and we had to separate - we didn't get a chance to say goodbye before we were in separate parts of the plane, but we worked it out.

And then we were on board. And we were going to Tokyo.

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December ??th: the flight

This is of course where things got weird, date-wise. Not just because I was in Japan time and coming from New York time, but because I kept napping briefly from exhaustion and forgetting how time worked. I woke up now and then, but I couldn't stay awake, and the internet was unreliable anyway. I did talk to my friends some, both American and Japanese, for a bit, but otherwise I mostly just slept, as I was too sick and tired to focus on my flash cards. I got chicken katsu for early lunch... late dinner? and then couldn't end up getting any eggs for breakfast/late lunch - the last eggs were used up right in front of me. Not even the amazing Premium Plus person could get eggs... Oh well. The cereal wasn't so bad, although I didn't really like the fruit they had available.

One of my friends sent me a beautiful, wonderful message while I was on the flight that nearly made me cry. Taking advantage of me when I was unable to respond due to Discord not working with the flight wifi...

According to Nico, at one point someone was screaming for help on the flight, and a doctor was even called for over the flight PA, because someone else had fainted and the person had discovered her unconscious body and freaked. I didn't hear this, though. Not only am I a superior Premium Plus Person (tm) and thus probably far from where this happened, but more importantly I had my noise canceling headphones on the whole time and almost always playing music.

On landing I thought I lost my passport. That was a heart attack and a half. I spent probably 15 minutes frantically searching for it in my bags and on the floor. Blessedly, turns out it had slipped into an odd corner in my purse.

This was a mixed blessing, though, as it made me late to leave the plane and get through immigration. And that meant I didn't have to wait at all, I just slipped through where the line would be, carefully copied the kanji address from my OYO LIFE email (I knew some of the kanji at least, so those I could write from skill!), and went to meet up with Nico.

December 30th: finally returning to Tokyo after three years

Nico was a blessing all over again when we emerged from the plane and into the lobby at Narita. (Nico:「出た!」Ah, the relief I felt on hearing that...) Without needing prompting or complaining, she took over the process of getting us going. I was still trying to set up my Japanese data SIM and suffering from the cold which had been made substantially worse by the plane's dehydration, but she was on fire, going through maps, looking for seats, sorting out transit methods, choosing the bus because it's faster, changing to the train because it would allow her to accompany me for the first leg of my journey even though it was slower, showing me how to get a ticket and how much my fare would be, demonstrating how to use the transit system turnstiles, talking to the employees to get help...

This is the third time I've been to Tokyo, but it's been three years, and I didn't do much navigating the last two times. So had she not been there, I certainly would have gotten to my rent-a-room... eventually. But it would have taken quite some more time, I probably would have been more likely to get lost, and it would have been much more difficult and stressful. I would have gotten caught up in my anxiety, as well. But with her there, it was pleasant and comfortable. Her teasing about my owing her one and wondering whether I'd be okay on my own when it was time for our paths to diverge was well worth it. We spent a while chatting about steakhouses we'd like to visit in NYC when we return, and made plans to go to Outback Steakhouse while we're here.

She commented that it was strange, having me there in Tokyo with her. I wonder if someday I'll feel the same, bringing friends back to New York with me... And when we did go our separate ways, I wondered to myself about what it would feel like to call this place home. It was a wonderful thought.

The transit system has a lot of English, which is a mixed blessing - I don't have to rely on my fledgling language skills to help me get by, but I also don't have as much opportunity to practice. The Tokyo train system is significantly different and more complicated in some ways than the Manhattan subway system, where everything is the same cost, you rarely have to go overland or exit the ticketed area to transfer lines, and everything is under the same system and doesn't require separate tickets, but I hear that a) the ticket-buying system gets less complicated once you have a smartcard, which I plan to get, and b) this is more similar to Brooklyn and Queens. I'm sure I'll get used to what lines take you where once I get more familiar with Tokyo, as well.

I had to pick up my key from FamilyMart, and Nico had pointed out an eligible candidate, so I set off right away. I picked up a hot lemonade from a vending machine in the train station first, though. Ah, old friend... It's good to see you again. (For context, the first time I was in Tokyo, my drunken friend got us lost for two hours in the winter at night when I didn't have gloves, and I bought hot lemonades as hand warmers and sugary pick-me-ups.)

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There was a map outside the station showing the area around the station, which was nice. The Japanese address system is starting to make sense to me now. It seems like each area has a name, and then each major intersection in that area has a number, and then each block of buildings around that intersection has another number, and then each building within the block has a number. You follow the address forwards, from largest area to smallest, instead of the foolish backwardsness that American addresses use. Makes sense to me!

But that didn't stop me from going to the wrong FamilyMart - twice, as the one I found next by blindly guessing on the map wasn't it either. Until, at long last, I actually looked at the address in the email - and found it was the FamilyMart in front of the station I had started my trip at. D'oh! The people at the other FamilyMarts probably thought I was some weirdo, coming in with a giant backpack and two giant rolling suitcases, making a lap, and then leaving. Fortunately, the third FamilyMart did indeed have my key, the station is only five or so minutes from my apartment, and I even passed a fourth FamilyMart right across the street from my apartment.

It was a good opportunity to walk around the area, though. I wondered if perhaps it would be too sparsely populated, too few places to go in walking distance, since I'm not in the city center, but this is still a city - though perhaps more like Brooklyn or Queens than my native Manhattan. I passed a bunch of restaurants, at least one grocery store, a garage, some cute shops, barber shops and salons... It was a little strange, seeing how different the culture was as far as how things are advertised and what kinds of shops and restaurants were dominant, but it was pleasant, too. There were a few people around, but not too many. It was nice, walking around quiet streets. (Particularly it was nice when even the sirens were quieter - in New York, being passed by an ambulance would have been physically painful, but here it was perfectly tolerable even without my headphones on.)

The sense of quietness may have been enhanced by the silence of my phone. With most of my friends and family asleep as I wandered the streets at 6 PM (4 AM Eastern time), I was very much on my own here, though it wasn't a lonely sense so much as just a sense of having time to myself to explore.

I did have some trouble figuring out how to enter my apartment. The apartment building's entrance was very much set off from the street, and I essentially had to guess that I was at the right place based on the map pin OYO LIFE had sent. I'm definitely going to need more time to get used to this. But I'm right by the door to the building, which is convenient.

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My room was surprisingly small (as Nico had warned me) and yet surprisingly comfortable and feature-packed, and I was wondering at it all.

There's a kitchen with a little induction stove with pots and pans underneath, a tiny fridge and a microwave with dials rather than the touchpad of my youth. A little sitting area with a carpet underneath and a table. A bed in the corner with some bins underneath. The restroom area has a Toto Washlet toilet, a water heater, a sink with a medicine cabinet and an under-sink cabinet, a little washer (and dryer? I need some more time with these devices to translate) machine, and a bathroom/shower room with a drying fan in it. I pretty much immediately jumped into the said bath, as this is one of my favorite things about Japan.

The bath is tiny in footprint but blessedly very tall, allowing even me and my long legs to curl up inside it, and has a roll-up cover which allows it to retain heat (and to turn its contents into a steam room for while I'm sitting in it!). After a little while, I translated the buttons on the device on the wall and found there's a button to automatically fill it with comfortable water and one to fill it with hot water. It also appears to have something to access the intercom, which is super convenient! There's a shower device next to it as well, which I initially thought is how you fill the bath, which is handy.

The bath was super necessary, because of another thing Nico warned me about: It's cold! The room isn't centrally heated, so blankets, heated toilet seats, and hot baths to supercharge one's body temperature are the name of the game. I ended up waking up after two hours and putting on approximately 80 layers of clothing to compensate for the fact that I thought sweats were too heavy for me to bring in my luggage. Well, I'm going to be buying them from a store near here now...

I kept saying to my Japanese friends that I would make plans with them that night once I had settled in, but I absolutely did not. I didn't even successfully carry out the one plan I had for the night: going to get myself dinner. Because I was exhausted. I sat in the bath for a little while, got dressed, and then crawled into bed and fell asleep. This helped cement my time zone change as well.

Today, December 31st: Let's get set up!

I finally got up and dressed (after bathing again!) at around 1 PM. And I've spent the day since writing this entry and the linked one. These entries went a lot longer than expected, but I had a lot to say!

It's already late when I'm finishing this up (7 PM!), but I think I'm going to go to FamilyMart and then the grocery store I saw and pick up some cold medicine and stock my room's fridge with some food and drinks. Oh, and go somewhere and get some Japanese food. Maybe some ramen... I'm still quite tired, and I know it's going to take some time for my jet lag and cold to wear off, so I'll let myself take it easy! January 1st is when my Tokyo trip begins for real!

Already I have some plans and some ideas. I think I'll do a bunch of shopping, and move anything I don't need to bring back with me to storage - so that it'll still be here when I return for a much more permanent stay in April...

Happy New Year, everyone!