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Lift-off: Chasing the Rising Sun

Kenai, Alaska~Sapporo, Japan

sunny 32 °C

BGM: She Moves On by Paul Simon

The truth is, I almost didn't come to Japan.
I had a moment of doubt on the tarmac as I slowly approached my first of four planes, that day. Mom told me on the phone that she saw me hesitate. (A mother's intuition can be spooky. Cool, but spooky).

"If you weren't going to board by yourself, I was all ready to push your butt onto that plane with my own hands," she said sternly. She was serious! She knew how hard we'd both worked to make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible for me. And she wasn't about to stand by and watch me give up on my lifelong dream.

(Thanks, Mom).

Although leaving her and Alaska still hurts to this day, I am happy to let her know that my sadness disappeared somewhere over Fire Island. I saw the mandarin-orange glow of Anchorage lights on the horizon through the cockpit window (Cessnas are small enough to see through to the cockpit) and felt the familiar, comforting lull of forward motion. I knew for sure that I was on the right course.

One down, three to go.

The red-eye flight from Anchorage to Seattle was filled with the pungent reek of airplane coffee and the rustling of newspapers by men in khakis and blue denim shirts. I sat by a kind-eyed gentleman in his fifties with curly blond hair. He told me he was meeting up with family in the Lower 48 after a summer of fishing near Kodiak. He gave me the best encouragement in the world: to explore everything I could while I was young, before life forced me to slow down. I still remember his words.

I was worried about getting to my Tokyo connection on time. Security and baggage checks were supposedly much tighter than normal. But as an out-bound traveler exiting the US, there were absolutely no problems. I was quickly ushered through to the proper lines, processed without hassle and sent on my merry way. I didn't need any coffee! Next stop was TOKYO!

My Airbus was luxuriantly spacious! In fact, I was the only one sitting in my entire row! I kept waiting for my potential neighbor to come walking down the aisle but nope! Just me! So during those peaceful 10 hours in flight from Seattle to Tokyo, when the attendants weren't busy in our cabin, I followed other the passengers' lead and put my feet up on the seat next to mine. It was great to stretch out! Enjoying the intriguing mix of Japanese and English over the intercom, I found myself drifting, completely relaxed.

Somewhere around the Aleutian Chain I must have dozed off, because when I opened my eyes, I looked out my window and stared in disbelief: About two windows ahead from mine, stark and sure in the pinkish-orange smoggy morning haze, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. Without warning, tears flooded my eyes and my heart leaped out from its cage as I silently wept, staring at what seemed to be a fleeting apparition, disappearing for a moment as the plane veered to one side, then returning as the plane adjusted. It looked too perfect, too pristine to be a real thing, built up in my mind from childhood like an iconic shrine. But this was no illusion. We were indeed circling around Shizuoka, slowly turning back around towards Chiba, so there was no mistake. In my rapture, I forgot to take a picture.

At Narita Airport, sweating to death in my too-heavy-for-summer burgundy velvet dress, I was greeted by two of my dear friends -one I'd known for years and the other I'd be meeting in person for the first time. Sipping gratefully on a frosty melon soda, the three of us chatted until it was time for my long-time friend to return to work, leaving my new friend and I to catch up on all the details of our lives since my flight. He gave me a glistening silver and diamond omamori (protective amulet) and saw me on my plane to Sapporo with a warm hug and a handful of phonecards so I could call him. Even on this side of the Pacific, I had a guardian angel looking out for me. That was an incredibly comforting feeling.

The plane from Narita to Sapporo was only about an hour and before I knew it, I was riding on a train with my university's international exchange coordinator. He didn't speak to me much. He looked startled by the likes of me -and very worried for me, that I might have a hard time in his country. My luggage had been put on the wrong plane in Seattle and was en route to Japan behind me, so already he felt sorry for my challenge. Once we arrived at my new dorm home, I was hoping I could just take a quick shower and hit the sack. But no go. I had to attend the weekly meeting.

I staggered into this musty-smelling basement meeting room filled with about eighty women all sitting on the floor -half of them Japanese, the other half foreigners like me, from places as far away as Russia and Egypt. After 30 hours of little sleep, my eyes kept shutting uncontrollably in that noisy room as the women chatted on about policy. Once it was over, I learned that I wasn't allowed to shower until the morning. Even if I could, I had no towels to use (they were in my lost luggage). I was escorted up four flights of stairs in that hot, steaming building (everywhere in Japan is hot and steamy year-round compared to Alaska) and led to the farthest corner of the hallway. Three black bags of garbage blocked my door. The hall rep had the wrong key. Once let inside, still in my clothes, I fell lifelessly down on the bed, exhausted. With no sheets, no blankets and a broken screen window, I didn't care. I just needed silence and darkness.


"AAAHHH! AHHHH! AAAAH!!!!!" The horrible sound of some guy in passionate ecstasy woke me up around 5:30 am. Man, they're really uninhibited, I mused, and then dozed off again.

"AAAHH!!! AHHH!" It was now 8:40am and the sound was very close outside my window. I thought maybe one of the girls living below me had a male visitor. I was not impressed. Preparing to turn the perpetrators in, I sat up and looked through my window with no curtains. My motion startled a huge black carrion crow, which flew away from the window ledge with a final "AAAAAHH!"

Woah! The crows even speak different over here, I thought. (Alaskan ravens have more of a xhaou!, xhaou! sound, like water dropping into a bucket). 'Might as well stay up and see where I am, I thought.

I looked above my bed to see a very cute welcome poster, hand-drawn by my two college friends (Masaru and Shiori) that I'd met in Alaska, who happened to live in Sapporo! (They're now a married couple). What a nice thing to wake up to in a far-away land! Feeling a bit better, I suddenly heard my name announced over the intercom system. I ran down the four flights of stairs to find that my luggage had finally arrived. I could take a shower!

After calling Mom to let her know I was safe and sound, Masaru and Shiori met me at my dorm a few hours later. Rounds of crazy laughter, bone-crushing hugs, ah! The world felt right again as we walked the city streets a little, stopping by to shove into my mouth anything that looked remotely interesting (steamed buns, ramen, etc). Masaru helped me apply for my Alien Registration card and then we all hopped on a train to the Shin-Kotoni area, where we had a very filling and cooling sushi dinner with Shiori's aunt. Japan seemed like home in that instance. Everything would be fine. I just needed to be patient in this land where even the crows speak Japanese.

Posted by GenkiLee 08:33 Archived in Japan

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