The first day of my journey was not actually the first day. Suffice to say that my checked bags boarded the plane and I did not. I’ve had better days.
The following day started early, just like every time I’ve ever traveled abroad. I was woefully short on sleep and had been for days, and frazzled due to heavy pre-moving stress. My heavy carry-ons would continue to be awkward and cumbersome, but there was nothing I could do about that. The flight was an American Eagle on behalf of JAL, and I had to valet-check both of them due to their size (those half-planes don’t have a lot of overhead room).
Because of my other bags having gone on ahead a day, I needed to be sure where they were: Chicago or Narita. I asked people in person and over the phone for two days before the JAL staff at O’Hare told me the bags had been waiting for me, and had already been prepared for loading. I also learned that my booking agent, perhaps feeling sorry for my awful previous day, had gotten me a “premium economy” seat, complete with access to the Admiral’s Lounge. I’d never been to one of those, and had an hour and a half left until my flight boarded, so I schlepped my bags back down the hallway and into the lounge.
The place wasn’t super exclusive, but it was a good bit quieter than the rest of the airport. I was given three vouchers: one for a light lunch and two for bottled drinks. One of the staff showed me a nook with unlimited free coffee and — get this — free cookies. I noted that spot for later. The lounge also had a “quiet room,” where phones and loud conversation were prohibited, in addition to a couple other seating areas. She said there were showers, too, but I didn’t have any spare clothing, so that wasn’t really an option. Finally, though they weren’t technically allowed to provide a spot to leave my bags (federal regulations and all), there were some public-use closets where I could stash my stuff, which I did. My lunch choices were a little roast beef sandwich with some red grapes or a small, prepackaged sushi tray. The latter looked like it wouldn’t really satisfy me, so I chose the sandwich and used my first drink voucher for a tall can of Guinness (which is more body than booze, and helped fill me up). I went back once that was done for my second drink, and asked the really nice lady behind the counter what a particular small bottle on the shelf was. She said it was champagne, and I decided that would be perfect. (Seriously, free booze at the airport is some sort of commercial anomaly, so I was glad to take advantage of it as best I could.) Pleasantly full and relaxed, I helped myself to a cookie and sat down to wait for my flight.
Once I got back, I remembered that one of the staff had offered to “gate-check” my bags, meaning to put them on the plane now and I’d pick them up with the regular baggage. I’d declined at first, but I just couldn’t lug those heavy things around any more, so I asked if the offer was still good. It was, and I said goodbye to my remaining luggage for the rest of my flying time. Once seated, I fell into conversation with a Japanese girl sitting beside me. She’d just finished four years at a community college in Ohio (she was just going to do one year, but kept extending it until she graduated) and was on her way back to — get this — Nagoya. I mentioned Hoshigaoka, and she said she lived not three minutes’ drive from there. We chatted until boarding, but our seats weren’t at all close, ad I never did see her after that. (We did become friends on Facebook, however.)
Premium Economy seats are the first few rows of coach, just behind the business-class seating. They’re a bit roomier, with a folding headrest (so your head doesn’t loll too far to the side when you sleep), a really nice screen in the seat ahead, and when you go to recline, it slides your lower body forward rather than bothering the passenger behind you. They even provided me with a pair of slippers, which I gladly used. My seat was by the window in the second row, close to the restroom. This meant my screen was seat-mounted, instead of being on a swivel arm like the row ahead, and I was among the first in economy to be served at mealtimes. For movies, I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which I’d seen at the theater, but was worth a second viewing) and the new Robocop (entertaining). However, I mostly slept on the flight, especially when they shut off the lights. The in-flight food was good, the staff was pleasant, and I stayed pretty comfortable.
Once at Narita, I made my way through the usual bureaucracy: my 在留カ-ド (which required a photo on the spot, meaning I look worn out in it), baggage claim and customs, and finally, the main terminal. It was mid-afternoon, so I had plenty of time to get into the city, but it was gonna cost me. First I hit the info desk, where a really nice woman found me a hotel near my apartment. (Takashi had suggested capsule hotels, maybe thinking I needed to experience one, but in my current state and with the amount of luggage I had, I wanted a room with a door.) Technically, she wasn’t supposed to help me book a room with her system, but when my phone wasn’t up to the task, she did it anyway and gave me a smiling “shh” gesture. Next was buying a limousine bus ticket to Haneda Airport. (The info lady had told me that a taxi from Narita would be really expensive, but much more reasonable from Haneda.) I dozed for most of the bus ride, disembarked, and managed to hail a cab without too much trouble. My luggage barely fit (with one travel suitcase riding shotgun), and the driver got me to my hotel with only a minor hiccup. One check-in (and two elevator trips) later and I was in a narrow room of my own, complete with AC and shower and bed. The staff even provided me with a bottle of water and a little can of apple juice (both of which went into the small fridge under the room’s desk). I used the hotel wi-fi to talk with Takashi via LINE while I unpacked a few things, but before I did anything else or went anywhere, I required a shower. (There have been very few times I’ve needed a shower as much as I did then.) While I dried and cooled off, I called my mother, who was glad to finally hear from me. I couldn’t talk long, though, because I had a mission: Find Food.
The Keikyuu EX Inn – 大森海岸駅前 was located right next to the Oomori Kaigan train station, and not far from several restaurants. Takashi found me a MOS Burger, but on the way there I also found a Yoshinoya, CoCo Ichibanya, and passed a (closed) building that had a Sukiya. My dinner was a nan taco (taco-seasoned meat, lettuce, cheese, tomato, and crushed corn chips on nan bread) with fries and chili sauce and an acerola soda. I stopped for a beer in a small pub on the way back, but it ended up being more expensive than I expected; I won’t be going there again. I got out my new tablet back in the room and started customizing it, but I was so exhausted, I went to bed without managing to catalog the day.