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Hello. I'm Sean and I live in Japan. I'm glad you've come because I need you to do something for me.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

An Icy World of Perpetual Sunlight

If you leave Toronto at noon on a Wednesday and head west towards Japan, a funny thing happens.  For the next thirteen hours of your life, the sun will never set.  This of course causes all sorts of problems for the airlines, as they are then faced with tough logistical problems such as how to justify trying to serve you an egg dish they call breakfast when you're an hour from Tokyo and it's two in the afternoon.  The passengers will never stand for the nomenclature!  The longest day of my life, quite literally.

An interesting fact about flying from Canada to Japan is that the world is not flat.  You big shots like to sit in your wing backed, padded chairs and look at your maps, taking your kids fingers and slowly tracing straight lines across Oceans from continent to continent, labouriously plotting your misguided routes of transit.  In reality, the fastest route between Canada and Japan is apparently over Alaska, across the bearing strait and concluding with a swing down the eastern arm of Siberia and a brief jaunt over the Sea of Okhotsk.  The icy world of perpetual sunlight.

The flight itself was uneventful to the fullest.  I continued my streak of having a window seat located exactly by the wing, and shared my little three seat nook with a youngish looking Japanese woman and an older gentleman who I assume was Canadian.  The woman beside me had two different states of existence: eating and sleeping.  She never missed a meal, and always hailed the drink cart as it passed.  Yet as soon as the tray went up, her sleep mask came down and she'd be out in minutes.  In the whole thirteen hour flight, she never stirred once from her seat.  I thus deemed her Iron bladder.

 I realize that it is my fault that I opted for the beer and the tea from the drink cart in consecutive passes, but I had to assume she'd get up at least once.  Fortunately for me, the old man was super fidgety, and had about a twenty minute window for sitting before he had to pace the the aisle, and I managed to not so nimbly jump her seat a couple times.

Despite the plane being about twenty minutes late to Narita, my transfer couldn't have gone better.  Since the airports are so far outside the city centers for most of the big Japanse cities, I was unfortunately not able to get a good look at Tokyo while we were landing.  This wasn't helped by the fact that there was a dense layer of cloud close to the ground.  However, as we were circling the runway I did manage to catch a glimpse of a certain famous mountain sticking out from the clouds.  So beautiful.

Transit from the arrival gate was hastened by the moving sidewalks affectionately called Travelators.  You must NOT play on them, warned signs.  Immigration came next, and after a brief moment of the official staring at my passport photo and laughing, I had picked up my bags and was through the domestic gate on a bus to my connection.  As we got off the bus, the two stewardesses who were standing infront of the plane gave a bow and enthusiastically welcomed everyone aboard.  As we took off from Narita, the baggage handlers energetically waved at our plane from the runway.

After landing in Nagoya, I slowly found my way to the attached train station, and using my printed out instructions, meticulously went through the process of buying a train ticket from the automated machine.  English in Japan is for the most part pretty common.  They have managed to find this balance between the two languages that allows for fairly easy navigation by anyone with an understanding of at least one of them.  If you do get confused, there are often people nearby that will be will  attempt to send you in the right direction.

The trains are always running and always on time.  I may not have a large sample size, but from my limited experience, when a platform displays an arrival time, that train is there without question.  There are two big train companies in Japan: the meitetsu, which is the government run train system, and the JR lines, which is a private company.  These companies have tracks that run independently from each other, and you can only get to certain parts of the city, certain ways, via certain lines.

Nagoya Station, which is a not too shabby 10 minute walk from my house, is a connection station for most of the different lines for both companies, and as a result tends to be busy.

The building is massive, with dozens of different tunnels leading to the different subway lines that run in every direction like spiderwebs from the station.  Sitting on top of the station is a looming hotel that jets out into the sky in the form of two large towers.  Most importantly, Nagoya Station is a stop for the Shinkansen, or bullet trains, that can take you swiftly throughout the country.

I'm still relatively green on the train lines here, but in my first two days I have ridden a total of five different lines between the two companies, left my umbrella in one of them and mistakenly underpaid for a ticket; embarrassingly getting stopped by the automatic gates as I tried to exit the station.  Good will be the day when I get a grasp on all the lines.

Nagoya is a beautiful city.  Due to its history as a major manufacturing center for Japan, it suffered heavily from bombing in the second World War, and as a result close to a quarter of the city was destroyed back in the forties.  This destruction provided the Japanese with the opportunity to rebuild in a new way, and I will be the first to say that they have done a great job.

The wide streets and copious green space give a sense of openness to Nagoya.  There is this really sharp mix of new and old Japan that comes together and provides a very unique effect.  Skyscrapers and apartment buildings form perimeters around the city blocks that are filled with narrow streets and small traditional Japanese dwellings.  Fountains and statues are common around parks and in plazas, and due to the amazing coverage of the train systems and the raised highways, there is very little traffic congestion in my area.

The place that I am living at is a complex called Freebell apartments, a fourteen story apartment complex that overlooks the train tracks leading to Nagoya station.  The skyline is rather striking. and the sounds of the trains can be heard regularly all day long.

I find the sound relaxing; muted and rhythmic.  The second floor offices have an extensive English library and there is also a fitness room available for all tenants.  Things are good on the top floor.  There is a bit of a learning curve with this all in one washer/dryer though.

I have had some time to explore on foot in the past couple days, and can proudly report that I did manage to get lost at least once.  Most recently I found myself trapped in a department store that was ten floors of sheer madness.  Unlike the western floor plans of separate stores on the same floor, Japanese shopping centers employ an open concept that is just sheer madness.  Sensory overload.  I wandered about this giant building for what must have been an hour, going up and down escalators, and even getting trapped briefly in a gaming arcade.  I did however managed to scope out the prices for bicycles, and spot a robot vacuum desperately trying to break free of its tiny prison.

Today's major accomplishment was taking the subway to Sakae to find the 100 yen shop, and buy cooking utensils so that we could stop eating dirty convenience store sandwiches.  My roommate Gary and I were pretty successful in finding the store eventually, and we managed to navigate our way around the madness and buy some cookware before giving up on the confusion in an attempt to find food.  Today's minor accomplishment was ordering a coffee at Starbucks through a series of hand gestures and pointing!

In our travels we happened upon a vehicle safety festival hosted by Toyota, complete with a full brass band, pom pom dancers, and a device called the seatbelt convincer!  It crashed you into a wall at five clicks!  The funny thing is that the children seemed to love it.  Other highlights were the exclusively Pokemon store and a weird track observatory called the Aqua Spaceship.

I am extremely happy to report that the first few days have been going quite well, and the only thing that really needs to come along now is my sleep schedule.  I will call the move a success when I stop waking up at 4 am.  I have yet to experience any of the anxiety that I had in the first few weeks of Africa, and it is such a relief as I can honestly say that I really had no idea what to expect upon coming here.

Thanks for reading!

Lots of Love,





  1. My heart goes out to that poor robot vaccum! J

  2. And I want to try the seat belt convincer! I need to be Convinced!!