Oniko's Travel Diary:|
The Three Mountains
(August 5-31, 1998)
Monday August 31st, 1998
As per my plan, I got up and out early so I could mail off a couple of bags worth of books and stuff. After assuring the front desk that I would be back before the official checkout time, I headed down the street to the giant post office, bought a couple of boxes, and stuffed them full while trying to guess when each was getting into the range of about five kilograms... more than that and the price to mail them shoots up exponentially. I filled out the forms and answered the questions -- YES, I have no Japanese address and YES, it will be alright to mail the boxes anyway -- and another handfull of stuff was out of my hair.
It was raining pretty good already.
Back at the hotel I gathered up my remaining stuff -- my shoulder bags, the umbrella I bought last night, my pilgrim's hat and staff, and one bag of presents and books that I will need as soon as I get home -- and checked out. Instead of going back to the giant post office near the hotel, I stopped by the small one because A) it's on my way to the JR station anyway, B) they mailed my last staff (the one from Mount Fuji) so I knew they'd be less confused about mailing the second, and C) the postmaster there wanted to know if I made it up all three sacred mountains. Well, the staff and the hat answered the question, eh? He quizzed me about what the three mountains were like compared to Fuji as a frustrated young clerk cut up boxes to wrap the staff [Gomen, dude... sorry!].
Now minus the staff, I walked to the Ikebukuro JR station and took the Yamanote line to the Tokyo station, where I knew I could catch a train to the airport later. But hey, no hurry... plane leaves at four, and it was still just 10:30... time for breakfast!
I've probably mentioned this before, but the JR Tokyo ward station has a large underground shopping area because it's a central point for not just the Yamanote line that circles the center of the city, but also the train to the Narita airport and all the Shinkansen lines to other parts of the country... so this station sees a lot of travelors everyday. The stores here sell basically all the sorts of stuff that travelors would need: food, presents, and entertainment. Hey... I need that stuff too!
I bought some cheesebread and a sandwich for breakfast, then got a soda for the train ride... which I drank before the train ride, because I got distracted exploring the station. I picked up a couple of more gifts. The shops here sell all kinds of small snack items individually wrapped in nice boxes, cans, and containers; I bought a can of cookies that all look like characters from comics by Osamu Tezuka, an extremely famous comic book creator here in Japan, to share with my Japanese class back home... and resisted the temptation to buy a box of beautifully and individually wrapped fresh fish to give to my mother [no chance of it still being fresh after an eleven hour flight].
I also spent a lot of time looking around a book store, a games shop, and a CD shop... and around one o'clock I realized I had to get moving. It took a moment to re-find the right tracks and figure out which train I wanted. I took the local train to Narita airport; it's slower than the express but cheaper, and I'm low on cash by this point in the trip. Besides, I'd already decided to skip visiting the temple in Narita this trip for two reasons: 1) I wasted too much time at Tokyo station, and 2) it was now raining cats and dogs outside... I doubt I could have stayed dry for two steps outside today.
So I headed straight to the airport, and got confused. You see, there's two different train stations for the airport because it's so big, and I didn't know which I needed to get off at... so I got off at the first, and figured I could get back on the train to the second station if I needed to. I handed my train ticket to the attendant at the exit, then showed my passport and bags to the inspectors that check everyone entering the airport; they just gave me a cursory glance and passed me through. Guess I didn't look that threatening today.
I headed up the four flight of stairs to the main outbound passenger area, and looked for my airline... and it wasn't there. I looked around some more and determined I was in the wrong part of the airport; these were all local outbound flights. So I headed downstairs and, rather than go through the inspectors again, decided to walk through the airport to the international outbound flights. On the way there, I hung my umbrella on the stairway down to the station, so that anyone on their way down could take it if they wanted... though, knowing Japan, it's possible I'll see it hanging there still when next I return!
I reached the correct side of the airport and headed upstairs again; I checked in with the United Airways desk, then got a bowl of ramen at one of the restaurants... it was way past lunch, and I had a couple of hours until I might be eating on the plane. Then I headed down another flight of stairs to the really official check-in area, the point past which only passengers may go; but they wouldn't let me through. Why?
It's been so long, I'd forgotten that Japanese airports have something called the "airport service fee". I'm not sure why, but it basically amounts to just another small fee you have to pay before you can reach your plane; I need a ticket proving I'd paid this fee before I could truely pass to the inner sanctum of the airport. Back upstairs I went.
The machine issueing these tickets was, not surprisingly, near the top of the stairs. I fed the machine the required 2600yen -- about $22 with the current exchange rates -- and it coughed up my permission to go home. Once again I headed down the stairs, and once again my passport and bags were checked, though this time my bags were run through the x-ray machine and I was checked with the magnetic wand. I had to remove my boots and show them the zippers... I think this is going to be a repeating gag at airports, eh?
After they gave me the once over, they passed me through... and then I started the long walk to my gate, assisted by various conveyor belt walkways that always seemed to end near someplace to buy food, books, and souveniers. Now I'm sitting in front of my gate, wasting the hour or so I have left in Japan typing this last set of notes.
It's been a busy trip. I've met a lot of people, and learned a lot... but I've been hopelessly confused more often than not, and now it's time to go home and make sense of it before I do it again. I hope I can visit again soon. I'll write again on the next trip!
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