Even after a week of struggling with jet lag and returning to the mundane routine of work and life in Michigan, I still can’t believe that I flew over 6300 miles, spent the holidays with my sister and her family in Japan! That’s right, I’m international baby! Even while downloading all my images to my workstation, the memories of my time there are still so fresh and vibrant. Saying it was amazing is an understatement. Where do I begin!
Day one, The dreaded 13-hour flight
December 21, 2019, Friday afternoon after an easy half day of work, I got home to my apartment and started packing for my trip. I will not deny it, I was really dreading the 13 hour flight to Japan, non-stop flight from Detroit to Narita. This was going to be my first International flight as an adult. I love airplanes and flying, but what do you do for that long? I figured I stay up all night packing, watching YouTube, whatever it takes to stay up so I could sleep on the flight over. I was hoping to get at least 7 to 8 hours sleep on the flight and the few hours left, shouldn’t be a big deal. Sound plan in theory, right?! Well, I end up taking two 15 minute naps, using the timer on my phone. I would quickly doze off and no sooner the alarm sounded with little or no relief. About 6:30 am, I was struggling hard and knew sleep was going to win. So, I set an alarm for 8 am so I would still have enough time to shower and do any last-minute things. Within minutes, I was sound asleep. And before I knew it, was startled by the alarm.
I took a shower, got dressed, waited for my friend Tony to pick me up and give me a ride to the airport. Waiting in line in Detroit Metro airport, I found it funny that I was the only black guy in the international line. With my lack of sleep, I was nervous about the long 13 and a half hour flight ahead. But I was excited about flying on Delta’s new Flagship, the Airbus A350-900. Along with this will be my first time flying in Delta’s Premium Select. Which offers a wider seat with extra leg room, large headphones for the in-flight entertainment along with larger screens, premium regional meals, blanket and pillow along with a pair dope in flight house slippers. All wonderful amenities to make long haul flights more comfortable and less stressful.
OK, time to nerd out about the amazing Airbus A350! My seat was on the leading edge of the wing, seat A20. Looking down the huge wings and staring back at me was one of the two massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. The size of the engine was like having another airliner in close formation. In fact, the opening of the Trent XWB is larger than the fuselage of a Bombardier CRJ! At takeoff, the power and acceleration are nothing less than awesome. I was also amazed at how quiet the cabin was. Setting right next to the engine, I never felt like I had to talk over the sound of the engine. The A350 flight controls is a fly by wire system. This system is nothing new to aviation or even Airbus. I don’t know how they did it but on both the flights going to Japan as well as coming back to the States, there were hours of the flight where it seem like the A350 was absolutely motionless. It was like we were hovering perfectly like a hummingbird in the sky.(A very large one mind you)
Throughout the flight, gazing down the leading edge of the wing to the graceful angle of the winglet, I wondered what’s Japan going to be like? What amazing adventures lies ahead? I had a list of things I wanted to see and do but had no expectations about Japan itself. I tried sleeping, but only got a few minutes here and there. The in-flight entertainment offer plenty of movies and TV shows to stay occupied during the long flight. I think I watched 4 or 5 movies. Me being a tall guy, in the Premium Select seats, I never felt uncomfortable or needing more leg room.
As the plane descended, I curiously looked through the window to catch my first glimpse of Japan. Through the layers of clouds and rain, we finally broke through the weather. And at our altitude, it was hard to judge how it looked different from any other place in the world. Hearing and seeing the leading-edge flap move into landing positions along with feeling the huge and powerful flaps going to full down. Then hearing the massive main gear swing into position, we were getting really close to landing now. And before you know it, the gear touches down and the massive engine switches into reverse thrust to provide breaking power for the giant airbus to slow to taxi speeds. With the dreaded long flight over, it was time to grab my carry-on bags and make my way to customs.
Going through Japanese Customs, I had my first experience with what I call the culture of cute in Japan. Things seem to have a certain level of cuteness to them. In the customs area at Narita airport, you get your pointer fingers scanned. The machine that scans them is a bright and lively pink color with an animated cat, meowing you the instructions. Cute, Right?! And without any of my dreamed-up issues about going through customs, I was allowed to enter the country like everyone else. After a bit of a mix up about what terminal I was in, my sister Cynthia and her husband John found me. We talked it up from the bus ride to their van and most of the way to Yokosuka fleet base. Where they live and I will be staying during my stay.
On the ride to Yokosuka, it was dark and rainy. And I was curious to see what Japan looked like, but I knew in the days to come I would see more than I could imagine. But by now, my lack of sleep was quickly outgrowing my excitement for seeing what Japan looks like. Once at the base, we got my visitor pass, a quick bite to eat then we headed home. Greeted by my nephew Little John, which is not little anymore along with Bella, my niece which has sprouted up too. Around 8 pm, what energy I had left was fading fast. I headed off to bed and with sound of the rain hitting the window, I quickly fell sound asleep.
Day two, Going into Tokyo!
With my sleeping pattern all messed up, I awoke at 3 am. I knew from past experiences, I need to write about events when they are still fresh and clear in my mind. My plan was each morning, write about the previous day before heading downstairs and starting the day. After a bit of login troubles (everything was freaking out because I was suddenly in Japan and not in Michigan!) I managed to write about the previous day along with my travels. The week before my flight, I made a list of things I wanted to see and do while in Japan. Once completed, I texted them over to my sister to see what was and what wasn’t possible. One thing I wanted to see was the Unicorn Gundam Statue in Tokyo. It is not a little one, it’s full size. Yeah, a full size Gundam statue! Another thing I wanted to see was going to see Tokyo Tower. What a great way to view the massive capital than from high above. Plus, it would be my first time to walk the streets of Tokyo!
After everyone was up, dressed and had eaten some breakfast, John and Cynthia planned out what would be the best way to go to Tokyo. Either we drive and pay for tolls along with parking or take the train and walk. After a little bit of researching online, they found it cheaper to drive and park. So, we packed up the van, topped off the gas and headed to Tokyo! The rain from the previous night stopped and the sky cleared up beautifully. Riding along with my head on a swivel, trying to take in all in and wanting to stop and take pictures of everything. A few things I noticed on the drive, there are a lot more cars and vans here. Not many SUV s and pickup trucks like in the states. Also, the area around Yokosuka is hilly and the roads tunnel through hills and winds around others. The land flattened out a bit as we got closer to Tokyo.
After a short drive, we parked and headed inside the mall. The Gundam Statue was on the back side of the mall. We made our way through the mall that was very much alive and well. We found Gundam base Tokyo. Holy shit! Not only could you buy any Gundam kit ever made, you can see a pro built kit on display! I could have easily gone broke there. After drooling over all the awesomeness of the store, we made our way through the mall on the way to the Unicorn statue.
The sense of scale of how big it is was hard to capture on camera. We all took a ton of pictures. John found out that it transforms once every two hours. Into what? We didn’t know. We decided to get some lunch in the food court and waited until the next time it transforms. Cynthia and I got ramen, John and the kids got burgers. After eating, it was time to head back outside and see the Gundam. Quite a few people started gathering around the giant Gundam. Come time to transform, some dramatic music started to play. But come transform time, unfortunately only a few panels moved. But nonetheless it was awesome to see a full size Gundam!
Next was on to Tokyo Tower. In the heart of what seemed to be an endless sea of buildings. From the top of the tower, I was hoping to see just how big Tokyo is. After a short drive over with google navigating, we found parking and started walking through Tokyo to the tower. The hustle and bustle of Tokyo is different from other major cities I have visited. It is very clean, and people were very friendly and courteous. We made our way to the base of the tower and the closer we got, the grand sense of scale grew even larger. We chose to go to both main deck along with the top deck. Once we all in the glass elevator, it started up to the main deck.
The views from main deck was remarkable! The city goes on as far as the eyes can see. At the main deck, the kind staff offered everyone green tea to enjoy while taking in the magnificent views. The views were so spectacular, that we forgot we were going to go even higher. We loaded on to the elevator once again and headed to the top of the tower. Absolutely stunning. What a sight! The information device that was given to everyone, had images of the views that marked points of interest. After an unbelievable 20 minutes, our time at the top was done and time to head down to the gift shop. Picked up some swag for friends and myself.
Soon it was time to head back to the van and to make our way to the base to get dinner along with watch the new Star Wars movie. As the sun slowly set, the light fell on Tokyo’s endless skyline as we made our way back to Yokosuka. There was a food court on base next to the theater. We all found what we wanted to eat. Once done, we walked across the street to the theater. Not going to write a review about the movie, it is what it is… I’m more excited about The Mandalorian. “This is the way”
Day three, Christmas Eve
After our Tokyo trip, Christmas Eve was going to be a pretty chill day. Woke up and hung out with little john as he played Xbox. Cynthia came downstairs, we had a really good time talking how we felt about the Star Wars movie. After everyone got something to eat and gotten dressed, we decided that we were going to stay local and venture out in Yokosuka. We piled in the van and parked close to the main gate so we could walk off base. Two things I cannot help but noticed, there are not a lot of garbage cans along the streets. It really makes you think about what to do with your trash that you make. I ended up putting any trash I made, in my pockets and threw it away when we got back to the base. The second thing is a lot of people riding bikes and they park them outside of where they’re going. I saw no chains or locks on any of them. And it’s not like community bikes that anybody could use, it’s their own bikes. Absolutely no fear of someone taking them.
We made our way to a covered sidewalk that was full of different types of shops. From clothing to candy. From knives to Real estate. While we were out, it gave Bella and Little John a chance to think about and or pick out their Christmas gifts. Bella fell in love with a jacket from a Hip-hop store. And every day after, she was inseparable with her new jacket. Little John didn’t find anything around town. The one thing that I love about shopping in Japan, is the unique packaging of products. Everything is perfectly packaged or wrapped, and they seem to open themselves. Along with the cutest type of advertising figures and logos. Some things don’t translate well, and other things are just… bazaar! For lunch, we made our way to Johns favor restaurant, Cocos. Which was a Japanese style curry rice shop. We all enjoy the food and the company of each other. After lunch, we headed back to the base and drove home. Once there, the kids visited their friends and we just chilled out.
Day four, Christmas Day
I woke up to the smell of coffee around 5 am. During my stay, I slept in Little Johns room and he was sleeping on the couch downstairs. I found it strange to he would be making coffee at 5 in the morning. But John had awakened early and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, he went downstairs made coffee and started watching YouTube on the TV downstairs. After I was done with my morning writing, I made my way downstairs to what going on. I turned the corner to see both father and son, passed out snoring!
I quietly started looking around for something to cook for breakfast. To my surprise, both Johns woke up. I poked my head around the corner to say, “Merry Christmas!” Cynthia soon came down and she set out everyone’s gifts on the table. I managed to cook some pancakes, which were not pretty but were edible. Bella sporting her new jacket, decided to come downstairs and join us. Gifts were exchanged, pictures were taken, pancakes were eaten, and coffee enjoyed.
Cynthia and John planned us a modest trip off base. We were going to head over one of their favorite stores in Yokosuka, Shimachu Home’s. It was a very short trip by van, less than 15 minutes from the base. Home’s was like a department, furniture, and hardware store all under one roof. It was a window into the everyday life of the people of Japan. It says a lot about a people from looking at the quality of their products, their sense of style, the ease of use of those products. We came across some products that you would only see in Japan and other that showed just how much thought was put into the them. There are somethings as a western is just funny.
We were starting to get hungry and we headed to a Japanese Italian restaurant that Cynthia and John enjoy. I tried to pick the most Japanese looking dishes. I can get Italian food back in the states. We all ordered three dishes and all of mine were incredible! After lunch, we made our way back to the van and traveled back to the base. We spent the rest of the day playing Xbox, snacking and watching YouTube. For Christmas dinner, Cynthia cooked turkey, homemade mashed potatoes, Bella helped with the Mac and cheese and some corn.
Day five, Going back into Tokyo!
For our second trip into Tokyo, I wanted to visit Akihabara, which is known for all the anime storefronts along with many hobby’s stores. Little John and Bella was not going to be coming along for this trip. The plan was for us to take the train from Yokosuka and switch trains to head to Akihabara. Then make our way over to Shibuya Crossing. And from there, head back to Yokohama to visit Landmark Tower. Cynthia, John and I went over to the mini mart here on base to grab some Yen and something quick breakfast before parking the van and walking off base to the train station. Once there, I had to get a pass to ride the trains. The System is brilliant and easy to use. You can even get your name printed on the card. The whole day we were navigating using google. It works great when traveling by car, walking around but when traveling via train in Japan… it works but we all found it to be frustrating at times. Our first leg to Tokyo, we had to switch trains in Yokohama to head to Tokyo. And after a bit of a mix up we were on the right path and found our way.
On the train from Yokohama to Tokyo, my sister pointed out to me the culture of riding the trains in Japan. How quiet it is. Ringers on phones are turned off and no-one is talking on their phone. Not to disturb anyone else on the train. There were a few whispers here and there but for the most part, all you heard was the noise of the train on the tracks and the twisting of the cabin as it turned. If you closed your eyes, it was like you were on the train by yourself. We experienced this on every train we took.
We finally got to Akihabara. And soon after leaving the train station, we were walking the streets of Tokyo again. Can’t lie, I was really thrilled. So, Akihabara is known for tons of anime, manga along with hobby shops. Yes, even in Japan, I’m going to nerd out! Again, I wanted to buy one of everything! We browse through a few shops and we only saw the just the tip of the iceberg. After some shopping and a bite to eat, we made our way to the subway to go to Shibuya Crossing. The famous busy crossing in Tokyo. God knows how many people make their way through the streets there and when we got there, it didn’t disappoint.
We explore the area around Shibuya Crossing for a while before heading to the train station to go to Yokohama. Once in Yokohama, we made our way to Landmark Tower. We stayed there until it was dark and enjoy the views of Yokohama at night. While there, Cynthia and John got their caricatures drawn by a local artist. By the time we started making our way back to Yokosuka, it was rush-hour and the trains were starting to get packed. But we made it back to the base around 7:30. By then we were all spent and hungry. Since they are putting up with all my site seeing adventures, I paid for dinner for everyone.
Here’s a link for Part two,