Leaving Japan

The view from the Okura

Breakfast was again the enormous hotel buffet: miso soup, salmon both regular and smoked, excellent winter vegetables, umeboshi plums, rice that claimed sixteen grains of millet, pickles and one small cup of coffee.

The usual fast, efficient service took us by bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo featured. There was not much of “wow” to look at. A marina or two broke up stretches of open water. A few rice paddies elided into suburbs and then into vast sprawl. From the main Tokyo station we took a local train and then a monorail to Hameda airport, which is much smaller than Narita, where we landed.

The flight boarded quickly, and the crew thanked us for our efficiency. Amazing! The seats weren’t as nice as on the outbound plane but still comfortable. The little girl (7? 8?) across the aisle kept up the barrier to separate her from her mother for the entire flight. She watched cartoons with English subtitles long after everyone else had put out their lights. Then her mother had to push-pull-shake for many minutes to wake her before we landed.

Dinner again featured excellent veggies and rice along with a tiny serving of fruit. Queenie, the flight attendant, seemed delighted that I had ordered a vegetarian meal.

Even though it didn’t feel like it, I must have slept because at one point I was vaguely aware that we were flying through turbulence, but it barely registered.

The feeling of complete disorientation when we landed persisted for a number of days. We left Tokyo at 7:45 p.m. on November 9 and arrived in San Francisco at noon – on November 9. Otherwise our arrival was unremarkable. The area where we landed was empty except for our flight. Immigration was all electronic. An e-reader scanned the passport, a kiosk took a photo and away I went.

Customs proved bumpier. I filled out the same declaration twice, once on the plane, again at the airport. Then finally I talked to a human being, all over nothing to declare.

Ashley arrived it seemed within seconds of our stepping out of the terminal. Then we sat in traffic for forty-five minutes to get across the Bay Bridge. At one point I thought we’d spend as long on the highway as we had in the air.

Despite all the political insanity rampaging through the country, it felt good to be stateside.

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