Saturday, December 13, 2008

Next Stop: Nippon

I’ve been Twittering more and more recently and in turn have simply let this blog turn into a series of posts about my upcoming projects and writing work. But now that I’m in Japan for a month, I’m gonna try and get back on track with daily posts of a more personal nature. I’m sure I’ll slip every now and again given the holiday season and certain commitments I have over here, but I’m gonna do my best to keep this blog regularly updated from now through January. Also, to make things easier, in the spirit of Twitter, I’ll try and write a little more freely, more train-of-thought if you will, rather than struggle over every phrase and sentence.

So yes, I’m back in Japan. While I was in Tokyo last year on business (Afro Samurai: Resurrection on sale February 3rd!), Mutsumi hasn’t been back in two years. Therefore, we decided to make this an extended stay so she could spend some much-needed and long overdue time with her family and friends here in Kobe.

Despite heavy rain in NYC and freezing cold and snow in Detroit, our flights were thankfully on time and uneventful. We flew Northwest, which I haven’t been on in years due to certain past problems with them, but not much had changed. We were on an older plane, so no personal entertainment systems, which kinda sucked, but I sleep on planes anyway, so it didn’t really bother me. I did wake up at one point and watched Fred Claus, which had a moment or two but was nothing worth wasting two hours on if I hadn’t been trapped in an airborne metal can. Looking at the menu, their crappy meals were exactly the same ones they were years ago. One new stitch was that they were charging for drinks! Five bucks for a beer on an international flight I already paid $1800 for?!! And as with past flights to Japan, I again noticed that the flight attendants were all elderly grandmother types, not one under 50, I would guess. So do the stewardesses with seniority request the long hauls or are they dumped on them as no one else wants them?

Thanks to American Express we got into the Northwest WorldClubs at both LaGuardia and Detroit, which was nice. We had morning flights, so it was too early to take advantage of the free open bar, although I was tempted to have one Bloody Mary. The free wireless was a great perk though, and I was able to catch up on some work and e-mail comfortably and free of charge in both lounges.

We landed at Kansai International early and while Mutsumi got right through Immigration, new procedures for foreigners meant long lines for me. Just like the States requires now, all foreign visitors needed to be fingerprinted and photographed upon entry in Japan, even those of us married to Japanese nationals and already registered here. I have to admit it bothered me at first, and I felt a little violated even, but looking at it from the other side of the table, I know why they’re doing it. So I pressed my index fingers down on the NEC finger scanners and smiled for their camera. The nice Immigration lady didn’t make me take my Spidey baseball cap off though so at least I don’t have bed head in my mug shot.

Got a laugh in line while waiting though as some young know-it-all, ex-pat kid tried to tell me what it was like for foreigners in Japan. Turns out he was an ex-JET like me, having just finished his run, and was returning to be with his girlfriend, who he met while teaching here in Shimane. As I remembered what that was like, I just smiled and listened as he lectured me about what to expect as an American visiting Japan and offered me advice on how to get by during my stay, assuming I knew nothing about the language and culture. Thanks, pal!

As Mutsumi’s mother doesn’t drive and we didn’t want to disturb any of our friends on a Saturday night, we got the airport bus without any problems and headed into Kobe. As we crossed the bridge into Osaka, I felt old for some reason. Jaded. I’ve done this trip so many times now, it’s nothing new for me, and I kind of resented being an old hat at it at that moment. I still clearly remember when I stepped out of Itami Airport back in ‘91 and how magical Japan was for me that very first time, with its bright neon lights and Japanese chatter and cars that drove on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes I wish I could go back and experience it all over, fresh and new again like that.

We got to the apartment around 7:30 PM and my mother-in-law was waiting for us. It was a nice reunion for Mutsumi and her mom as they’re close and had a lot of catching up to do, in person now after two long years of nothing but phone calls.

Dinner was on the table, and as usual, it was a cornucopia of my favorite foods. Yes, my mother-in-law spoils me to no end! Two types of karage (fried chicken), two types of shumai (dumplings), tako-su (sliced octopus in vinegar), and a big heaping pot of oden, which is a Japanese winter stew, simply put. Not the fanciest of meals, but more of what I consider comfort food for my first meal back. And beer, of course, Asahi Super Dry.

We spent the even eating and chatting and gossiping about all that was going on in our lives. We then unpacked and gave her mom the Zabar’s coffee, rugelach and chocolates she asked we bring from New York and had a very non-Japanese dessert.

Although we technically have three bedrooms in our apartment here, the sleeping arrangements when we visit always end up being a challenge. There’s a single bed in each bedroom, which usually go to Mutsumi and her mom, with me getting stuck on a futon on the floor in the tatami room. I don’t mind sleeping on the futon, but the thin-walled room is near the kitchen and laundry room and Mutsumi’s mom is an early-riser, which means I’m usually woken up at 4:30AM when she starts cooking and cleaning. So this year, after my suggestion that her mother just learn to stay up later and sleep later was overruled, we worked out a rotating system that will hopefully make everyone happy, with me getting the bed this week. We’ll see…

So that was my first day back. Loads of excitement, I know, eh? I’ve got some pictures I’ll be posting soon, and hopefully more exciting reports in the days and weeks to come, including trips to Tokyo and Kyoto, which are guaranteed to be dangerously fun.

Welcome to my life in Japan. It’ll get more interesting… I promise!

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