Monday, November 24, 2003 4:39 PM
part 4

Trips to Japan always seem to start badly but improve from there. This one was no exception. It began badly when I arrived at the airport, with time to spare, but the itinerary pointed me to the wrong terminal. Of course, this was not obvious at the time, so I joined the queue which moved so slowly that when I reached the counter there were only minutes to spare, at which time they notified me that I was in the wrong place. Fortunately, I travel sufficiently lightly that I was able to run to the next terminal, still with some (fewer) minutes to spare, but they'd already given away my seat. Apparently, "confirmed" isn't the same as definite for them. I was transferred to another airline, but not checked in. This was not obvious either, considering the pile of documentation that I was given in order to prove that I was supposed to be there. The alternative flight was due to leave in such a short time, that I needed transport. As I have learned during my time in the USA, it's often sufficient to be willing to show one's appreciation ($$$) to get along. Sure enough, a shuttle driver was willing to take me to the other terminal in time to catch my flight. Despite the fact that I wasn't checked into this flight, I had no trouble getting past security, all the way to the gate, before I was stopped. "Maybe they do things differently at [original airline]", said the flight attendant (how diplomatic), before checking me in and allowing me to board the flight.

Eventually, I arrived in Japan, and the memories came flooding back. This is just as well, because it is not a simple matter to get from the airport to the hotel at which I was staying that night. The next day I had to catch the train to get to the office. I used the mnemonic that Aya taught me to identify the station that I needed, since the map contained only Kanji characters. I started to remember other characters later. It's been more than a year since my last visit, but I rode in the same carriage of the same train that I used to catch, and there she was - a familiar face that I used to see every day. We never spoke then and we didn't now, but it was pleasant anyway.

Of course the first day was a national holiday and the office was almost empty. Of course no-one told me first. Of course, this happened in Iceland and the USA, too.

Maybe it's something in the water - crows seem to be the local birds here, and they are size of small cats.

Aya and I went to Namja Town. It's run by the Namco company, the people who made Pac-Man. Namja Town is full of shops, with names like Ice Cream City, World Import Market, and Dumpling Town. Ice Cream City is an enormous shop devoted to the sale of weird flavours of icecream. I really mean weird - there are hundreds of flavours, including garlic, chicken, deer, crab, strawberry, chocolate... We tried potato icecream first. It was purple! It tasted okay, though. Yes, it tastes like potato. Then we tried octopus icecream. If you are ever given the opportunity to try octopus icecream... don't take it. It's grey and it tastes terrible. The actual icecream tasted only slightly fishy, the problem was the chewy bits of *real* octopus, and the awful aftertaste. BAD BAD BAD.

Aya likes the World Import Market, because it has lots of food from around the world, however it's mostly a USA import market (perhaps "World" in that sense is like the "World Series" in sports, which seems to consist entirely of teams from the USA). I wonder if some of the foods from other countries are renamed after they leave the country (like Calpis Water and Pocali Sweat are), because how else to explain "Death Rain" chips, or the unidentified thing that's called "Goo".

We made a brief stop at Dumpling Town, but all of the dumplings seemed to be made from animals that I don't eat.

While on the subject of food, I *really* need to learn Kanji. I tried more snack foods, and encountered buns containing custard, buns containing cream, and a bun containing... curried vegetables. That last one was a surprise. I also know now that a "big choco chip melon" is not a fruit. It's a bread roll with chocolate chips on the outside. "Crunky" biscuits are not particularly crunchy, it's the company name. My favourite package was labelled "chocolate coated vanilla cream sandwich pie". The Germans probably have a word for it.

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