Aug. 29. 2006: Tokyo to San Francisco

And so, we come at last to the end. We know, we know. This is the 15th day, and it’s Tuesday, so there’s no way we can be justified in calling it a part of Week Two. But it’s our last day of the trip, and pretty much all we did today was go home. And we don’t feel justified in starting a third week just for that. So cut us some slack, huh?

As soon as we were up, we finished our packing and then had breakfast. While eating, we discussed our next trip here, which at this point is only theoretical, but which we certainly hope will come to pass. And we talked about their next trip to the U.S., which could be as early as March. They said they’d even like to rent an RV and follow us around for a while. We say that sounds just “sugoi” (amazing). Toshihide also asked if he should reveal the solution to the matchstick puzzle that’s been puzzling Dennis for several days – he solved the first one within minutes, but the second one has him stumped so far. Dennis promised, however, that he’d conquer it soon, and report on the solution the next time we see them.

Before we left, we all decided to pose for one more group portrait. But it turned out to be not so cheery. In fact, everyone looked pretty somber.

Oh, and Yukari presented us with some farewell gifts, including some T-shirts with Japanese writing on them. (Did she fly to San Francisco overnight to pick them up?) Doesn’t she know that it’s the guests who are supposed to give the presents? Does the generosity never cease?

Then we said our goodbyes to Hana monster and headed on out toward Tokyo, marveling at a fuschia-colored dumptruck we passed. Before long, Ayaka began her customary chant of “Shee-dee, shee-dee” until her dad put one of her CDs in the player. (It happens on every drive we take.) For the most part, we’re not overly fond of the music she listens to, but we’ve introduced her and Keisuke to the American band Green Day, whom they seem to like. Zephyr also has taught her some nifty, indispensable American phrases like “Shut up” and “Me first!” (Fortunately her parents realize it’s just kidding.)

At the airport, we had to go a through a security checkpoint before entering the parking structure, a measure we don’t recall seeing at an American airport, but then we fly about as often as we cook lentils. Despite the language hurdles, check-in went pretty much as smoothly as it had in San Francisco, except that one of our bags was singled out for manual inspection. It was the one into which our gifts were stuffed; the inspector handled them gingerly, and seemed appreciative of our taste.

Speaking of gifts, we had plenty of time to do some browsing through the airport shops to fill in the remaining gaps. It was a surprisingly good place to browse; Narita has a better choice of merchandise than just about any airport we’ve ever been in. There was even an ample selection of clothing with the native language emblazoned on it. (So this is where you find these!!)

All too soon , it was time to take our bittersweet leave of our wonderful host family and head down to the boarding gate. And by the way, no matter what you may have seen in the movies, you never want to say “sayonara” to a Japanese friend. That grim word is a final farewell reserved only for someone you never expect to cross paths with again. Otherwise, use an expression like “mata ne”, or more informally “ja ne”, both equivalent to “see you again”. The only time we heard the s-word, it came from the agent who checked our passports here at Narita. And we hate to break the news to him, but it’s just possible he hasn’t seen the last of us.

There are still many, many places in Japan we’d like to visit.

In Japanese society, open displays of affection are uncommon. You rarely see anyone hugging or kissing or even holding hands in public. But our Japanese “relatives” risked embarrassment enough to indulge in a “group hug” with us in the middle of the busy airport. Yukari, who’s had quite a bit of Westernism rub off on her, gave us individual embraces. And Ayaka, who hasn’t yet absorbed the requisite social taboos, offered each of us a hearty, tearful bear hug. Then we were off, turning occasionally to wave to them one more time as they stood watching until we were out of sight.

We still had a lengthy wait down at the boarding gate, so Kimu-san had enough time to crank up her laptop and get some work done. And another first: we saw the cleaning crew scurry onto our aircraft to ready it for our imminent regal occupancy.

After we were aboard, we experienced our only delay and only inconvenience – though really quite minor – of the entire trip. As we were on the runway about to push the ground away from us, a flight attendant came scurrying up the aisle and yelled “Sir, you need to sit down. We’re taking off!” And then he grabbed a phone linking him to the cockpit. A short time later, the captain announced that we would be returning to the terminal to “evacuate” a passenger. Then he commented to the effect that “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, unfortunately you encounter people occasionally who don’t want to play by the rules.” We never saw the individual in question, nor did we ever witness the undesirable behavior. But we heard later that he was intoxicated or worse, and had been giving the attendants trouble previously. It was perhaps just as well that he was taken off before takeoff.

Thus, after about an hour’s delay (which really didn’t seem that long) we once again zoomed along our northerly arc across the Pacific. Once again, we had a pleasant flight (except maybe for those of us who think flight is a demonic aberration, but he slept half the way again), although a bit bumpier this time. Zephyr again overdosed on heavily edited movies, and we again passed up the option to play video games or do “airobics” in our seats as directed by an instructional video. This time, however, we had vegetarian meals waiting for us, thanks to arrangements made by our travel agent whom we’d emailed, and they really weren’t bad.

It was Tuesday afternoon when we left Tokyo, and thanks to the cloud of magic fairy dust we flew through, it was Tuesday morning when we touched down in San Francisco. Thus concluded the first honest-to-Pete vacation we’d ever taken. Oh sure, we’ve traveled to oodles of interesting places and done gobs of interesting things. But it was always in the line of duty. This time, notwithstanding the little performance we really gave just for fun and our journal to share our experiences with others, it was really just a pleasure trip that was looooong overdue. We’ve had two weeks of being treated like royalty, and of having “the ears of our ears opened and the eyes of our eyes awake”. Two weeks of no phone calls, no mail, no bills, no graffiti, and not a single Bush sticker. And much to our relief, none of us got sick. It was, in sum, a perfect trip that far exceeded our expectations.

As we hopped on BART to head back to the East Bay (Dennis again misplaced his ticket for a moment, but this time didn’t have to jet halfway around the world to find it) we reflected on our adventure, realizing it might take us another couple of weeks or so to fully return from Japan and settle back into our “normal” lifestyle.

We also realized that this voyage had spoiled us, and we’d no longer be satisfied with just roaming the fruited plain from sea to shining sea. Look out, world: the Gozas have found you out, and they’re coming after you.

But for the time being, we were content with the short train ride to San Leandro, where we found our RV just as we’d left it and collapsed onto our beds for a well-earned nap.