I left off as my stateside brother and I finalized our plan to travel to the Philippines to retrieve my Philippines-dwelling brother from near a war zone.
I have flight benefits through my employer, and have the ability to add one family member or friend to my benefits, since I don’t have a spouse or children. So, I added stateside brother. (That process in itself was a whole other drama because I decided to do it during the same week the whole flight benefits system was being migrated to a new platform, but I got it done and my brother was able to use the benefits – yay!). This meant that we would be flying on standby, which added some complexity, but we would be flying for almost free to anywhere my employer flies.
So it was that we departed from our respective cities, destination, Narita, Japan. We arrived within about an hour of each other, only to discover that the once-daily flight to Manila had experienced a plane change (or, equipment change, as we say in the industry) to a smaller plane and was hopelessly overbooked. So, we settled into the Sky Club and set about finding lodging for the night.
Sidenote – for more on the vagaries of standby travel, see here.
I had never been to Japan. My brother had been there fairly recently and liked it, so it was a good opportunity for him to see more or it and me to be introduced to the country. After booking rooms, which wound up being at separate hotels (note to self, one person books both rooms – we were each booking ourselves and my hotel filled up before my brother could get his booked), and sorting out the plan for the next day, we took the train into Narita proper, and after checking in, and investigating each others’ hotels, we went out to dinner at a nearby ramen place, then went for a short walk, including a stop to look around the local Nintendo arcade. (So many colors! So much pastel! So many flashing lights!)
Then it was early to bed after a long day. The next day we had about 4 hours available for exploring, so we walked through the local neighborhood, following a street that was lined with paper lanterns. We saw a festival go by, with drummers and dancers in costumes (I will dig up some pictures for next week’s post), then, after having coffee, we went to the Narita-san Shinshō-ji temple, which was up the hill behind my hotel.
A note on language – this was my first time in Japan, and I had not had time to learn any Japanese at all. I usually try to learn at least the words for “please,” “thank you,” and “hello,” but under duress, I didn’t have time. This is where early 80s American culture helped me. Remember “Mr. Roboto” by Styx? When my brother told me how to say “thank you” I realized I already knew: Dōmo arigatō. All I had to do was remember not to add “Mr. Roboto.”
After we enjoyed looking around the temple grounds for an hour or so, including a pleasant conversation with a mother and her small daughter (my brother knew enough Japanese to compliment the child, but the mom switched to English for us) we then made the mistake of assuming that if we were going downhill to exit the temple grounds, we were headed in the right direction, forgetting that downhill might mean down the front OR the back side of the hill.
As you can probably guess, we went down the back side, and had to skirt around the base of the hill to get back into the center of Narita, but it worked out OK, and we got to go for a nice (if hot) walk along the canal. Oh, and I was the dorky tourist who took my luggage to the temple, which I did because I didn’t know if we would have time to go back to my hotel for it, which might have made sense, except after our circuitous adventure, we popped out of the canal trail about 100 yards from my hotel. Doh!
I really got a kick out of the various vending machines we saw along the way, placed at small intervals along various sidewalks and other walkways. By the time we got back in range of the train station, we were both very happy to stop at one and have a cold drink while huddling in the small amount of shade we were able to find alongside the main road. Then it was on to my brother’s hotel for his luggage, while I nipped into the convenience store next door for a lemon sorbet, with real lemon slice (amazingly delicious and cooling).
By then it was time to get back on the train to the airport. Tune in next week for more of the adventure.