The Inevitable Return Trip.

(Sure, I could have called it something dramatic and trite like “The End of the Journey” or “The Final Chapter,” but why bother? I intend to go back to Japan someday soon, so there’s no need to make it seem so permanent. Anyway.)

The participants in the first WVU Japanese summer trip.

The day had finally come for us to go home. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had mixed feelings: on one hand, I had come to really like Japan and the linguistic and cultural immersion I got there, but on the other, I was worn out from our week of running around. Thus, I was ready to come back — though had I been given a chance to return a month later, I would have taken it.

Our bus was scheduled to leave at 6:00 am, so we were downstairs about twenty minutes before. I had bought some バナナパン the night before (on the way back from dinner), because I knew there wouldn’t be time for breakfast. Neither Miki nor Jin (my hotel-desk friends) was working, and hadn’t been the night before, so I asked the manager if he’d give them my e-mail address. Josh found another 100円 after he’d gotten back from dinner, and Rosemarry gave him the extra couple tens’ worth to buy a small can of coffee before we left, thereby emptying his wallet. Along with our group, a lady from Kindai came with us, probably to make sure we got out okay.

When it came time, we got our stuff loaded under the bus and left for the airport. As we rode, the Kindai lady produced a bunch of color-printed, staple-bound booklets with photos from the Kindai cameras, along with a printed-cover DVD that had all the photos they’d taken (they used at least two cameras while we were there). Kana had told us they’d give those to us at the airport, but we’d kinda forgotten in the rush to pack and sleep, so we were surprised and grateful.

Lugging my bags into the airport was much harder, since there was an extra one to carry and the others weighed more, and we had to take the elevator in groups. Along the way, I broke the shoulder strap for my duffel — it fell off the main suitcase and snapped the plastic clip, so I’ll have to find a replacement strap somewhere. We found Oomura-sensei waiting for us at the ticket counter, which was another pleasant surprise.

I took my bags through their X-ray machine, and they stickered the zipper fobs to show they’d been checked, but when I went to weigh the bags, my main suitcase was overweight by about six kilos. (This is one problem I have with airports; I’d like to see a weigh station before the ticket counter so if someone needed to redistribute, they could do so without having to go through the line again.) Someone told me Josh’s suitcase was well under the limit, so I asked him if he’d let me stash two things in his bag. He reluctantly agreed, so I put my netbook and a plastic bag with two omake magazines in his suitcase. Unfortunately, this forced us back through the X-ray line, which had grown longer by then. Everyone else had already made it through, so they seemed impatient (despite our really early arrival). Josh was annoyed, and rightly so. I told him I’d make it up to him.

Once we were all together, we said our goodbyes to Oomura-sensei and the other lady (whose name I never did catch) and set off for our gate. We had plenty of time before boarding, and I knew Josh hadn’t eaten anything, so I bought him breakfast at the nearby food stand (it wasn’t a convenience store, but not quite a restaurant, either). He seemed in better spirits even before that, but I told him to pick something to eat and drink for his trouble; it was the least I could do. He got a double-pack of sandwiches and a little milk carton, while I got a double-pack of pork sandwiches and a bottle of tea. Since I’d eaten, I wasn’t too hungry, so I ended up giving him one of my sandwiches as well. After he’d eaten, he was much livelier, and I felt a little less guilty for having put him through the extra headache.

The Itami-to-Narita flight was a little over an hour, which wasn’t too bad. I sat between Ashe and Warren, which I’d done for the long flight in, and I honestly can’t recall anything about the flight. Nou-sensei wasn’t coming back with us, because she has family in Kanagawa; she was staying behind to go visit her parents and due-any-day-now pregnant sister, so we said goodbye and went through to our next gate. As layovers go, it wasn’t too bad, but the flight was a little late (we’re pretty sure it was to wait for a connecting flight coming in that also looked to be late). We briefly spoke with an international businessman from Ohio who apparently does business in China, and eventually, we got to board.

Let me take a moment to talk about the flight from Chicago to Tokyo (that is, our long flight into Japan). First of all, I hadn’t slept much the night before leaving America, and couldn’t sleep on the plane for some reason, so I was pretty well out of it the whole time. Second, the flight to Japan was about three hours longer than the flight back. Third, because of my sleep-deprived state of mind, I had no real motivation to do anything for the fifteen-or-so hours going; I listened to my Nano a little, watched one movie (The Mechanic, and that in two parts, because I briefly fell asleep partway through and had to pick it back up later), and got no reading done at all.

The flight back home, however, was great. Shorter, of course, and I was better rested, so I felt better overall. My seat was all the way in the back of the plane on the left aisle seat of the middle section. This meant I could stretch my legs a bit, lean my seat back without bothering anyone behind me (because behind me was the wall), and didn’t have to ask anyone to move if I wanted out. I had also stashed my backpack in a room-for-one overhead compartment that had been curiously empty, meaning if I needed something out of it, I didn’t have to mess with anyone else’s bags. Next to me was a Japanese couple who kept entirely to themselves (seriously, we never once said a word to each other), so if the girl in the middle wanted out, her (most likely) husband would move, meaning I didn’t have to. None of our group sat near each other on the way back, with two exceptions: Rosemarry originally had a seat near Heaven, but agreed to move so a couple could sit together, and Mike was one seat up and across the aisle from me (which meant if I wanted to talk to him, I could get his attention, but we didn’t really find a need to talk during the flight). Finally, the bathrooms were back and to my left, so if I needed to go, I just stood up and walked about six steps. I could also tell if there’d be a wait just by looking to see if anyone was standing around, so I didn’t have to waste time. Hell, I didn’t even have to put my shoes on, since I was right there.

I got a little sleep on the flight, watched three movies (Unknown, the new True Grit, and Tangled), listened to my Nano, and even got in some conversation with the flight attendants (my last Japanese conversation for a while). My first meal — lunch, I’d guess, but we were flying back in time, so who knows? — was Chinese-style vegetables with seafood and rice, and it was tasty. As with the seafood-curry-rice I’d eaten on the flight over, it also featured extra little dishes with tofu and salad and other things to add variety, plus a tiny tub of vanilla Häagen-Dazs. Someone had told me a day or two before that wine was free on the flight, so I checked with the flight attendant, who confirmed. Thus, I got a small, plastic bottle of a white Spanish wine. They also supplied us with hot tea once everyone had been served. (I learned later that Ashe had gotten sick after eating the curry-rice meal that was our alternative. She said it was food poisoning, but felt better a few hours later, so I have no idea.)

Our second meal (dinner? lunch part 2?) was the best, though. They offered no choices, simply setting down a tray in front of me. I looked at the bag on the tray and saw three words: AIR MOS BURGER. It’s like Japan was giving me a parting gift! Inside was a bun/burger/bun setup, separated by pieces of absorbent paper so the components wouldn’t stick to each other. You removed the paper, squeezed on some mayo and teriyaki sauce (provided in a two-chamber squeeze container), added some lettuce (provided in a separate dish), then added a bit more sauce before closing it up. It was delicious, and I could have easily eaten two more. On the side was a dish with a cherry tomato (no, thanks), a tiny lump of potato salad, and two onion rings — cold onion rings, oddly enough, and I knew it was intentional. I had another small bottle of wine, and decided I could get used to that.

Twelve or so hours later, we reached Chicago. Now that we were in America, we had to reclaim our bags and go through customs again, which was (as always) a pain. We didn’t have a lot of spare time there, so we rushed to catch the tram, only we managed to leave Josh and Mike behind. (We were worried about when the next tram would come by, else we would have waited.) I somehow hadn’t been given a boarding pass for Chicago, so I had to stop at a counter and get a new one, and they sent us all to a more-distant (but shorter-lined) customs area. From there, we had to travel what seemed like the entire length of the airport, then down some stairs to our gate. Tenesha managed to leave her passport at customs, so she had to stop halfway along and run back for it, plus we still didn’t know where Josh and Mike were. They started calling for boarding, and we had to explain that our group was down three. They told us they understood, but there was a cutoff time after which they couldn’t let people board. Heaven and Warren kept an eye out up top, while the rest of us kept checking the time. Finally, our wayward three arrived; Josh and Mike were annoyed that we hadn’t waited, and Mike handed me a boarding pass, saying there had been someone giving them out and they’d gotten me one. (I saw no such person, so it must have started after we’d already passed.) Regardless, everyone managed to board the half-plane on time, and we were off for Pittsburgh. We didn’t sit beside one another, but rather in front and behind. Warren struck up a conversation with his seatmate, while mine was quiet and looked like he wanted to sleep, so I fired up the Nano and closed the shade.

After an hour and fifteen or so, we finally reached familiar soil! People were already waiting for some of our group, and we adjourned to baggage claim. Heaven’s grandfather had come with a car, which he was lending her for an indefinite period of time; he’d be taking a Greyhound back home.

Pittsburgh was where we encountered our final problem. After a long trip there via three planes and a long trip back with three more planes, it was the last leg of the journey where the airline lost three bags: Rosemarry’s sole checked bag, Josh’s main suitcase (in which I had two items), and my main suitcase (which had many more items). The lady in the office said they might have been placed on the next flight, which seemed ridiculous to me. Josh and his father decided to wait, while Rosemarry’s ride (Ashe and her family) and my ride (Heaven) wanted to get the hell out of there, so I asked Josh if he’d keep an eye out for my duffel, and if any of the bags with stuff belonging to me came through, would he drop it at my place on his way back to Elkins? He agreed, took my phone number (so he could call and let me know either way), and I left (forgetting to exchange my money in the process).

The drive home was pretty standard. We stopped at my mother’s so I could drop off my laundry and reclaim my phone, keys, and car. Heaven and I drove back here so she could pick up her things, because she was going to stay with a female friend (though she forgot her bath towel), then she sped off and I was left to start unloading my crap.

A few hours later, I got a call from Josh’s father; he was at the entrance to North Hills, and needed directions to my address, because they had my stuff. Woo! Josh had crashed hard on the way back, and hadn’t yet woken up, so his dad gave me my suitcase, netbook, and the magazine bag. I thanked him, and he resumed his journey home.

All loose ends tied up, I unpacked my suitcases and proceeded to get some much-needed sleep. My trip to Japan was finally over, and while I knew I’d miss it a lot, I was glad to be home.

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