It’s extremely early in the morning. I don’t know what time it is but I know that all I really want to do is hit my snooze alarm on my phone for another 5 minutes of peace. A slight edge of a minor hangover creeps into the corner of my mind as I consider to myself “well, this is the price you knew you would pay to at least get SOME rest last night. Besides, you’ll just sleep it off on the plane. If not the first one then definitely the second one. It’s trans-pacific, you’ll pretty much have to…shit…I’ve thought too much and now I’m awake.” I give up on the remaining 3 minutes of snooze time and turn on my lamp. 5:40 a.m.–I don’t know how some people do it. Luckily I packed my bags the night before so after a quick shower and basic hygiene routine all I had to do was frantically triple-check my bags to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I hadn’t…I think.

Less than thirty minutes later my bags are all loaded up in my mom’s car as she drives me to the airport. We’ve only had to turn around once, since she was smart enough too ask if I had remembered the camera. I’m practically guaranteed to forget at least one thing. Nonetheless we pull up at Sky Harbor with time to spare. I double check my tickets, grab my luggage, and say my thanks/goodbye. This would all be more touching if I was a morning person, but I assure you I am not. Fortunately I am a technology person, and the self-check in machines made made it so that all I had to deal with my was my backpack with relative ease. Though I am typically a light packer and can fit my life into a backpack for weeks at a time, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to expect, so I added one medium sized rolling luggage carrier. Plus I wanted to bring a couple bottles of 12yr Glenlivet with me, one as a gift, and the other as good practice. But I digress. My luggage is checked in, I’m through the bulk of security, and I make my first of a short series of facebook posts prior to fully enveloping myself into this trip. Then I wait. Trying to avoid the blaring morning sun as it entangles itself just slightly with my fuzzy under slept mind, I realize what a placid and lovely start this vacation has been. The trip I’ve been anticipating for months has found me silent and still, awaiting my first of many journeys with quiet anticipation, executing mock scenarios of getting to my hotel. As the airport fills with it’s usual fare, I let my mind wander as a enjoy over priced airport snacks. Awesome.

Flying doesn’t particularly bother me, and this little jaunt that it takes from Sky Harbor to LAX is a route I know well. And yet, no sleep. It’s not that I have trouble sleeping in pubic (anyone who went to college with me can attest to that), but that I have a problem sleeping upright. (I wouldn’t last a day as an Addams.) I while away the less than an hour flight as most passengers do: in a semi-conscious haze, staring blankly out the window of the plane, probably imagining a little person running around and doing sweet tricks off the surrounding landscape…okay, maybe not MOST of the passengers are in on that one. After we land, I discover that thanks to a certain airline’s new partnership with several other airlines which may-or-may-not be named to imply a singular unit measurement in relation to the planet upon which this writer lives, that we are in what I would consider to be the airline equivalent of the ‘boonies.’ A problem easily enough resolved after a minor shuttle ride across what my sleepless mind can only reasonably assume must have been half the facilities, before going through more security and finally being corralled back into that disease cocktail known as ‘crowds’ at the airport. On the brighter side I get to check out my first duty free shop. There is an ongoing debate (both in my head and via facebook thread containing a post about how I’m leaving on my trip)  on whether to buy a bottle of whiskey and try to drink it on the flight over, which ultimately ended in me deciding I would just pay the scalpers price on mile-high booze so that I could at least make it overseas before I attempted anything incredibly stupid. Instead, I just continued sipping on my water, had a protein bar, and took a little attempt at a nap on the floor before the plane was due to board. Did I mention this is a 4 hour layover? Because it is.

But even layovers end apparently, because after some minor wandering mixed with sporadic people watching I suddenly find myself in line to get on the plane. As I wait I start to wonder just how well my research on seat guru is going to pay off (I sacrificed foot space for a window seat on the condition that it came with a plug, which would in turn mean that I have unlimited access to my phone’s music library). What I was not certain of, was who I would get sat next to. We all prefer it be no one, but if I had to choose, I would say I got pretty lucky. Oh, so you’re another young white dude in what appears to be his mid twenties traveling to Asia alone for vacation? And you’ve not only been to Japan alone before, but have helpful advice for me? Perfect. If only that entire conversation had happened a little sooner than as-we-are-landing-in-Tokyo. But hey, better something than nothing. And rather odd that he just so happen to nearly fit my exact demographic and would this probably have some very relevant information. Of the flight itself, there is little to be said really: I had apparently sacrificed more foot room than I anticipated (as a 6’1” male), I slept a total of 1 hour separated into two 30 minutes stints, the movies were good considering that they were free, and I didn’t stare with blank disgust at the food, but rather ate most of it and didn’t feel sick. I did stare out over the pacific once or twice, just to get that strange visual of infinite blue. The most notable comfort was that I entered the flight willing to spend far too much on whiskey just to keep myself entertained and hopefully catch some sleep, but I happily discover that the beer and wine are complimentary. It may take me longer to get drunk this way, but all the more money for while I’m actually IN Japan. I was sad to discover that Tokyo Narita Airport was NOT in the city, and has the scenic view of landing in a light countryside. So much for all the perks of my incredible window seat.

Finally off the plane in a weary, half-drunken stupor, I manage to get my bag picked up and over to customs. The whole process goes over really smoothly to my surprise, but this is my first glimpse into Japan pleasant and its polite side. Even when the man notices that I have brought two bottle of scotch in my luggage and is required to check that, he politely asks if he can see them. I get my bag re-checked for the final flight to Osaka, and begin my hunt for a cigarette. I had heard that Japan is pretty open when it comes to where you can and cannot smoke, so how hard can it be to find some? Much to my own dismay, I cannot find a single shop selling them where I have already (foolishly) gone beyond security check lines.

The view from my gate at Tokyo Narita Airport. Not quite the city scape I had imagined, but surprisingly serene.

The view from my gate at Tokyo Narita Airport. Not quite the city scape I had imagined, but surprisingly serene.

Thankfully, there was a smoking room near the gate for my flight with what appeared to be a nice looking older couple. I shake what little of my mind is still functioning awake to try and think of how I am going to approach them to ask for a cigarette. The phrase book I bought doesn’t exactly have “Hey, can I bum a smoke from ya?” included in it, so I piece together what I can from memory and decide that Ichi (One), Tobacco (a word the Japanese might use to describe cigarettes), and Onegaishimasu (kind of like an English version of please, but more specifically applied when asking for items. Don’t ask how I knew to use this particular form, I honestly don’t know). Either way my point gets across, the man gives me a cigarette, and I quickly discover he actually speaks pretty good English. As it turns out this guy and his wife/girlfriend/whomever are going to Osaka on business and he is a 40 year old dentist who smokes. Impressive. He proceeds to notice that since I asked for a cigarette, I therefore don’t have any, and absolutely insists that I take the rest of his half-full pack by literally pushing it into my raised hands trying to tell him ‘thanks but no thanks.’ In addition I receive a can of tea from his back pack and a lighter from his female companion. After some minor pleasantries and chatting their flight leaves and I am left to enjoy the rest of my final layover before Osaka by letting my mind go numb while I stare at the evening news in Japanese (with no subtitles) and internally chuckle at some of the more amusing commercials.

The one hour flight to Osaka passes with even less incidence, just me staring blankly out a window at Japan’s black surface dotted with city lights here and there. Still no sleep. Osaka is going to be a mad house.

Coming into the city was about the only bright and shiny thing worth noting on my nighttime flight, and landing was an abrupt realization: humidity. There wasn’t a lot of humidity while I was in Narita airport, but I also hadn’t really set foot outside. Osaka was different. (Minor point of clarity, I come from the desert southwest of the United States. We do not have humidity. Ever.) After the first humidity shock my brain started to function a little more properly, getting rid of the lingering alcohol buzz in preparation for the tricky task of taking public transit to my hotel, but not quite dispelling my overwhelming tiredness. The kind that can really only come from having been awake the better part of some 20+ hours with hardly any sleep and free plane beer. The airport itself is easy enough to navigate, but as I made my way to open air, another strange realization dawned on me: different countries smell…well…different. After the stale and sterile airports, finally coming into contact with the sights and smells of everyday Japan was an interesting awakening to were I was. We never really take into consideration how much smell dictates a sense of home to us. It’s something we can go back to. This new smell was both intriguing and a reminder that I was somewhere completely new and exciting. And after despairing only a bit at the luggage-go-round about the fate of my bag, I was off and on my way to the hotel. This is where the real adventure begins.

The only other picture I even thought to take in my mad dash to find my hotel. More pictures will come depending on the day.

The only other picture I even thought to take in my mad dash to find my hotel. Does anyone else feel like the green dude is a little to casual?

Before I left, I had made a cheaply “laminated” (clear packing taped) set of directions I had taken down from Google Maps on how to get to my hotel, and had done a bit of street-view walks around the area to try and familiarize myself in case I got lost. So now I grabbed my little list of directions, and went to step 1: Take monorail one stop over to Hankyu railway line. Simple enough, right? So I head out from the airport following all the English and pictures on the signs with what I would describe as a small crowd toward the monorail. I had thought about trying to walk the small distance to the near by train station, briefly, before my utter exhaustion had absolutely dismissed the idea. As we arrive at the ticket machines I feel a twinge of anticipation. The only experience I have with these machines is a few youtube videos I decided to watch before I left. What I had gathered was that there was typically an English button involved somewhere, but if there was, I never found it. After that I only did what it was reasonable to do–step aside and watch a few people use it, until you get how it works–and I’m proud to say that it only took me 4 people. Once on the platform it was pretty easy going since the monorail could only go in one direction from Itami airport to the Hankyu line.

The connection between the two rail lines was seamless. And now that I had a basic concept of how the ticket machines worked I was on a platform waiting to go to Umeda station. The signs with the giant arrows pointing in the direction of the trains travel and the station names in Romanji (English letters, Japanese words) made it extremely easy to figure out which platform was mine. Double check the directions: Step 2. Take train from Hankyu to Umeda. 3 stops. Deal. Got on a “mildly air conditioned” (that’s what it literally said) car, rode 3 stops, and got off at Hattorihonmachi. Or was it Sone? I don’t know, either way, I’m not at Umeda where I’m supposed to be. A rock falls on my head as I suddenly realize there is more than one type of train, and I clearly cannot tell the difference…at least I know how to go in the right direction though. That has to count for something. The next train shows up ten minutes later on the dot, I board, and stay on until Umeda which turns out to be the end of the line anyway. How convenient.

Now I’ve never really been in what I would consider to be a proper Train Station before in my life, and Umeda has me shocked. It’s my first real taste of serious Japanese crowds as well. Sometimes in documentaries I have seen some Japanese people complain that it feels lonely in those huge metropolises, and I can begin to understand their sentiment in a way: I am suddenly a minnow in a sea of movement and life. A six foot tall, plain as day gajin, a minnow. So many people walking around at top speed with hardly a cursory glance about them as they steam on to the next destination. It’s overwhelming to a very impressive degree. Again, I am not from a tightly compacted city, so the novelty of this new situation should technically be like a new wonder of the world for me, and in many ways it is, and I feel slightly compelled to just watch for  few moments. But in the end I’m honestly just more tired than anything. Suddenly I’m feeling like I just want to face forward and steam on home as well…maybe they’re on to something. Directions? Leave Umeda station, go to Tanimachi Line. Got it. I exit the train station onto the street as quickly as possible, hoping the open air would help me avoid the crowds inside as well as cool off from the humidity. It does neither. I sit down and have a cigarette as I try to get my bearings, but it’s 8p.m. and I have no point of reference just yet to get my map set straight. Some walking in circles later, I find the ferris wheel on top of the office building as marked on my map, and discover I may need to re-enter the building a short walk north of where I exited. Behold! I have found some ticket machines, glimmering in their electronic radiance of hope, propelling my weary self towards getting to my hotel. To my dismay the signs are in Japanese, so I spend the next fifteen minutes deciphering the sign against my map, and learning that I need the purple train 3 stops south to get where I’m going. And when I say the signs are in Japanese I mean that the first sign I looked at was in Japanese so I just went with it, realizing after the brainstorming session and the success of creating my route home (I will randomly use this in place of hotel) that the sign next to it had the names in Romanji. Yeah. With my map route for the train home settled, I now began the map search of the locations of the platforms. This went poorly, with me ending up back at the ticket stations twice, on the street again once (I finally discovered I was taking a subway), and finally asking a guard hesitantly if I was about to put my ticket into the machine for the Tanimachi Line. He lazily assured me I was, and gave me a small paper map in Japanese. Some 3 stops later, I was there. Tanimachi 4Chome. Portal to all potential transportation on my trip. I exit the train and look around, see a glimmering golden sign with the word ‘EXIT’ in English on it, and begin my one-story stairwell climb with luggage to open air and freedom.

Except that when I exit the subway, I don’t recognize much. This most certainly isn’t where Google Maps dropped me off on the practice runs from the subway to the hotel. Shit. Sit, cigarette, think. Think better. I’m too tired for this. Think less harder than that, but slightly more positive than before? Deal. Map. I was on the Tanimachi Line, I exited at 4Chome, and that is near 2 freeways, and Osaka castle. Can’t see the castle. Can see the freeways. Hotel, from here, is away from the freeways. Okay then, easy enough. Go away from the freeways.

Shoddy calculations and some wandering later, I recognize a balcony from one of my Google Maps walks that tells me I have actually in some truth been walking in the right direction the whole time. +2 Luck, +1 Navigation. A few uncertain twists and turns later I see a sight that my weary eyes could swear was the most beautiful fifty dollar a night hotel in Japan. You even get your own bathroom. I approached the glass door, rang the buzzer, and told the man in very tired English that I had a reservation. I had studied the phrase in Japanese to ask when I had left but I was so tired I just couldn’t even begin to remember a fraction of it. He let me in, and after quite some time in the back (some patrons even stopping to ask if I needed help getting assistance), I was able to get checked in to my room. I took the tiny elevator up to the second floor, because at this point all stairs were dead to me, and quickly found my room.

My back was drenched with sweat as I opened the door and fumbled around for a light, setting down all my baggage with haste. First things first: water. I haven’t had a drop to drink since the tea on my flight to Osaka, and I’m parched. Next thing: cool down this room. I scour the walls looking for a western style thermostat (It’s a western style room), and find some mystic box inscribed with Japanese, with the two most important symbols in the world to me right now: red up arrow, blue down arrow. Blessed, blessed blue down arrow. I hit that thing as many time as I could in a scramble to cool off. The box begins saying something in very speedy Japanese so I back off, and notice the room hasn’t gotten any colder. I’m doomed. I resolve to open the sliding patio door, and turn on the television to at least be proactive. Turns out the remote to the t.v. is right next to the remote for the swamp cooler like device that will serve as my room’s A/C. Sweet deal. I crank that bad boy down, spread a few things out, hide some of my money in various new locations (just in case) and sit down on the bed.

This is when it hits me.

Hard.

I’m alone.

I’m alone in a foreign country.

Not at the airport, not on the train, not wandering the streets of Osaka at night. Sitting in my hotel room. Now I’m alone in a foreign country. With a cell phone that probably couldn’t make a single call, a map, some money, and some clothes. And some scotch. Some Glenlivet 12yr scotch. I have two bottles, one for me, and one for Horitsuna. I open mine with a shaking hand that is a mixture of excitement, anxiety, trepidation and exhilaration. I take a swig. More than a sip, less than a tug. Just enough. I wonder if I should make any notes, or find something to eat, or do anything, just anything, but I do nothing. I set the bottle down on the desk and fall instantly to sleep.

Authors Note:
Thanks for reading Day 1! I know there wasn’t a ton of pictures for this day, but some of the other days will have more. You can also visit my Panaramio page as linked at the top.

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