Our seat gambit hasn’t paid off and as we make it closer to row 40 we know the jig was up. The only other white guy on the plane is in that middle seat that we’d hoped would be empty. We get to the row and he just looks up through his glasses and says “Window and aisle?”, “Yep, you can take aisle if you want” (Queenie and I had discussed this upon approach), “Really? Hey, it’s totally up to you”, “Yeah man, go for it.” And he graciously moves into the aisle to let us ungracefully clamber into the seats.
Fortunately, this guy is super awesome and I swear I’m not making up any part of this character description: His name is Matt. He’s wearing a shirt that has a cat in a taco on it. The shirt says, “Tacocat spelled backwards is…. <Cat in a taco pic> Tacocat”. Why am I bothering to describe this. Here’s the shirt:
Matt is stocky with glasses and has a kind of Steven Seagal in a ponytail / samurai look going on. He says he’s half Japanese but admits he doesn’t look it at all. Actually if you throw some specs and a tacocat shirt on this guy, that’s pretty much who we’re sitting with:
Matt has been living in Japan for the past year in a small town in “the sticks’ outside of a place called Tottori. He has a patch of land to plant things on and helps the old local farmer types. They love him cuz he built a fence for the pigs one time. He works as a professor at a university there. It is the Institute for Planetary Materials. “I’m sorry, it’s the institute of.. planetary materials?”, “Yep, I deal mostly in extraterrestrial materials though”, “Like meteorites and shit?”, “Yeah, exactly. I’ve gotta get back and teach a class on Monday actually”, I’m finding this all very fascinating. “And what is that class you’re teaching on?”, “That one is on nano materials actually”, he gives me a questioning side glance, “Like electrons and shit?”, he gives me the arched eyebrow, “Yeah, mostly on scientific methods and…”, “So you got your degree in physics?”, “Yeah”, “Interesting specialization. Extraterrestrial materials? Is Japan known for this type of…” We dork out on this shit for a while. I was so interested he gave me his card. I ‘scratched out the personal deets and highlighted the rad part: Institute for Planetary Materials? That’s a thing! So cool.
Matt tells us all about living in the sticks in Japan and some of the traditions and festivals up in the mountains there. It sounds great. He also tries to teach us some helpful phrases but between the plane noise and not writing any of it down, they are all long gone, unfortunately.
He and Queenie start talking about some Japanese fable called Momotarosun. At first it sounds a bit like James and the Giant Peach, but then a talking dog, pheasant and monkey came into play and they fought demons. So way better than JatGP.
He’s pumped about the in-flight entertainment system, “Sometimes they have Capcom games on here”, “If they have Megaman 2 I’ll be set until we land”, “Street Fighter was on here last time… nope. Nope, these all suck.”
I opt for the movie Baby Driver. Good flick. I’d meant to see it in the theatre, had tickets and everything but then bailed cuz it was Canada Day and I felt obligated to party instead. Speaking of Canada Day, turns out Matt is also Canadian. From London, Ontario. Studied at Western. And he’s also lived in Winterpeg. What the hell? The drink cart comes by and we order up some beers. Free on international flights. Cheers.
A couple more drinks and the beer / pizza combo starts knocking me out. The zzzs are imminent, it’s about 3am at this point. Except the Japanese baby directly behind me launches into a high-pitched, terrified screaming fit. Earbuds out. Goodbye inconsolable baby, hello Tosca. I slip into a conga dream shell… until the album stops and the rattling of the window visor thing is insanely loud all of the sudden with my sleep-face smashed right up on it. Goodbye rattly visor thing, hello Boards of Canada. And I’m out for a while this time.
The flight goes by super fast somehow. Even though I remember every spiteful shift in airplane hate-sleep mode, I feel rather well rested. And there’s only an hour and 50 mins left? Wow.
The breakfast carts come through. My options are fish or seafood… I explain that I’m allergic to fish to the stewardess and she feels terrible. Matt pipes up, “East coaster allergic to fish? That’s gotta suck.” I tell the stewardess it’s fine, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. I will take a beer though. Another round comes to row 40.
Matt offers me his yogurt. “Not good for me to eat a lot of dairy. Also not good for you for me to eat a lot of dairy.” So I cobble together some scraps from Queenie’s breakfast and a yogurt. Beer and yogurt is not a palate pleasing breakfast combo I would recommend.
Our approach into Tokyo felt super stealth. There was hardly any view out of the window, just an approach over dark waters, a brief view of the tarmac and then we touch down in Tokyo at 430am. Matt bids us adieu and a great trip and we wish him well. Glad he was the person that called our middle seat bluff.
We exit into the Haneda airport and breeze through customs. It’s still dark outside. Our next mission was to track down and activate our pre-ordered wifi box. The area outside of the gate is fairly small and easy to figure out. We find the wifi counter and Queenie shows her passport and gets the box. We hit a coffee shop up for some coffee and beers while we figure out our next move.
The wifi box is super easy. You basically turn it on and then connect to it from your phones settings. Bam. Internet everywhere in Japan. Pretty awesome. Only downside is that now you’re always connected. It’s been nice on these trips to pull that plug. Only being online at some hostel or cafe somewhere and then only briefly or with a shitty connection. Forcing you to be more in the moment and more engaged with the people and place. But this will be convenient as fuck I’m sure. Especially with map directions and instant info.
We also pre-ordered a Japan Rail Pass which is good for a lot of the trains, metro, monorail and bullet trains (highly recommend getting this if you’re going to be in Japan for a stint). But the JR counter doesn’t open until 8 and it’s only 530am at this point. We decide to just get to the Shinjuku station, get breakfast, activate our JR pass there, and get to our hotel which is also in Shinjuku, walking distance from the station.
We get tix for the monorail. The sun is starting to light the area up now. Before boarding we go snap a pic.
The monorail shoots passed the industrial area around the airport and then a horse racing track. Some folks are out for a morning ride, maybe waking or warming the horses up. The monorail comes along a river and we start getting closer to some businesses. There’s a little box character on one, “What is that, tofu?”, “No that’s a data packaging place”, “What? You can read Japanese?!”, “I recognize some similar characters from Chinese.” Queenie is subtly amazing. A lot of the time.
The morning light on the buildings as they flash by lends a cool atmosphere to my initial take on Tokyo. I’d thought landing at 430am would be a total waste of time but here is the city coming to life. Awakening with the sun in a soft magenta burst as I’m first experiencing it. The temperature is amazing, I can’t read the signs and I couldn’t be more content.
Queenie sets up Narcopiggy and Zonabunny in the seat across from us and snaps a picture. I start laughing. I was wrong. I’m now more content.