21.03.2016 - 22.03.2016
Bested only by the best laid plans, humming energy keeps me close to surfacing for the duration of my three hour sleep. I spring up at a quarter to two, already having made peace with my lost phone and found anxiety, tributes to rediscovered purpose both. Shuffling down to a waiting taxi at four precisely, we roll through crisp charcoal air in silence. Four thirty is fully illuminated at YYJ as I head to the Alaska counter to meet the same gauzily familiar woman who has stumped me before. Warm and efficient, she tags me through to Narita, sensibly leaving aside anymore references to where I work lest I reveal again how little I really see people. "That's great" I effuse, both for the surprising bag check through on non-partner Japan Airlines and the deft avoidance of entering my frothy bubble. Glazed through customs, like observes like as I hunker down to a catty half hour of the Housewives of Beverly Hills as crowds trickle in. Soon enough we are filing up opposing stairs to flight 2353 where I grab my aft seat and study my neighbour's knuckles in hopes I can learn to read a face from the curls of hair on a ring finger alone. Settling on Arabic, I mellow into pulsing dance updates of 80s near-misses as we rattle ominously through the dampness of pre-dawn.
Wafting down into Seattle brings me across slick tarmac as rain begins an assault, pushing me up ramps and down a corridor following my former neighbour, looking nothing at all as my quasi palmistry supposed, and trying to engage conversationally to salt the wound with face time. I hang back unconsciously, chatting instead with a different man, large and slightly effete. He is off to a conference on the U.S. East coast, evidently involved somehow with the economy of asphalt. He intones that he finds the humour is his humourless work to which I offer that at least he'll return with something concrete. He laughs as I turn away slightly to hide my palsy-like curled lip, dry humour betrayed by how tiringly amusing I find myself at 630 AM. It is a straight shot through customs and security to my shortly-boarding gate, a busy hop to LAX. I squeeze past a blank young woman and a deep-roasted occupant of the middle before plunging into my window-side seat. I draw the shade down quickly, worried I may be locked in a battle of wills over UV screening with the woman to my right who appears to be have been repeatedly dried on a window ledge. Wrong again, she turns out to be very sweet, coming out of quiet near the end of the flight to laugh at her ridiculously tight connection back to her residence in Mexico. As delays in finding a gate mount she sagely reminds herself that she must take what comes aloud, her voice like a minor rockslide over a barbecue between cleansing laughs. De-planed, I hurry through one of the many terminals, before determining that a shuttle bus is needed to ferry me to the international building. Beckoned by a lady who could not be any less impressed with her job, I am quickly landed on the shuttle and guided through the next steps by a lovely man who intimates his information with a voice that sounds de-barked. Filing upstairs to the Tom Brady international terminal I am immediately struck by the difference to the two national terminals I have explored. Seedy fixtures and stifling air woven through masses of bodies are replaced with cool open spaces, grounded by slick features and an overwhelmingly Asian crowd. Feeling immediately at home, I pause only to capture a giant whimsical tower screen before heading in search of gate 152.
It is only a few bends away, a quiet handful of benches occupied mainly by Japanese while the flight crew engages in an apparent pep rally behind secured glass doors. I take a seat with only a slight edginess, not yet checked in and neither able to redouble through security and desks nor make it through a buggy web app. Fidgeting gives way to a bracing walk, scouting for other JAL desks to obtain help as needed. Seeing instead that someone has been excommunicated from the group huddle to man the desk I make a beeline. The middle aged Japanese woman who clatters away at the keys dismisses a roving Japanese gentleman back to his pacing before asking that I too have a seat. Once she is online she fetches me for question and answer where I explain my predicament. Almost as if speaking directly to my fears that I am a sham with my points-purchased first ticket she thinks for a moment on the right English phrase to employ. " How did you get in here?" Is her best offering , her notes of deference drowned out by the exasperation she clearly feels fielding no-hopers. After explaining again my situation she catches on and is able to retrieve the booking. Her demeanour changes but immediately as she realizes I am on the right side of the curtain as I savour my first debt-financed taste of prestige. She shuttles back and forth to my seat with updates on luggage and other tidbits, now having switched on the charm and graceful flourishes. I draw my thin cardigan closer as the line for first is called and I join just three others, careful to disguise excitement under an impositioned exterior nearly crumbling under the commonness of having to wait in a line. As a character, it is off-putting in the extreme, but I relish in the rare moment of aspiration realized before an inevitable face-plant. Padding aboard I make a delicious left turn, sniffing at rarified air and coming around to seat 1k, auspiciously situated by a bank of three windows and adjacent an empty capsule. Immediately a variety of attendants are in motion, totalling four staff for a cabin occupied by five people, myself included. Once they all have come around to check in I am situated with a crisp bright glass of champagne and checking out my immediate surroundings. The seat itself is plush oversized brown leather, flanked on one side by a console containing all manner of storage and goodies. A footrest occupies a distant place on the horizon, a distance easily taken by using motorized controls to slide down the track like a plutocratic invalid. Ignoring the large screen tv, I am only a moment without distraction before the attendant with the most elastic face and thick lipstick invites the choice of magazine. Requesting the Economist, I am met with just a moment's puzzlement before being informed this is not in the rotation. Asking more generally after a political periodical she scrapes away with a promise to return with a selection. Five minutes later she is back with a florid arrangement that includes the Economist, the possibility that someone sprinted across a terminal in sheer hose and abject terror a distinct possibility. Sipping and flipping, I begin to melt into the seat back in an upright position.
Take off is a breeze, leaving me full to pour over a set dinner menu that offers both a Japanese and Western option. Settling on the Japanese kaiseki choice, I am shortly dazzled by an overwhelming seven course spread. It starts inauspiciously with a paired amuse bouche, both the mushroom cheese and pressed fish caviar options quite frozen in the centre. From here it moves up quickly, highlighted by a conger eel rolled in soft eggplant and a beautiful piece of sea-bream in lashings of nitsume sauce. Taking a final bite of yuzu wafer and azuki bean tart, I roll back into a bloated trance, able only to toy with my mimosa as I delight in watching Kim Richards slur her way through another impenetrable argument. With only a couple hours elapsed I am offered the choice to spill into some pyjamas and have my bed made with a choice of mattress. Characteristically choosing the more yielding option, I then move to slip into a cozy set of grey JAL embroidered loungers, feeling somehow both pampered and like the member of an ill-prepared space mission. My newly repurposed bed is extremely comfortable, a nice contrast to the shocking display I have made of my face, wrapped as it is in a moisturizing sheet mask covered with a tightly secured silicone second. Summoning all their innate Japanese powers to ignore a walking disaster, the crew makes nothing approaching acknowledgement. Settling in with a second miomosa and no buzz, the lights dim to complement my brain function.
Waking only 30 minutes later I discover I am operating at a level of comfort that renders sleep undesirable, and instead call for a bowl of coffee ice cream with a sparkling plum wine. It is here a few more hours pass, with a book detailing one of the more daring and outlandish plots in WWII between spoonfuls of smooth Hagen Daaz and trickles of liquified Korean herbs down my neck. Once I am fully infused and slathered in a terrine of moisturizers it is back to TV until an astute pair of eyes notices my glance at the menu from behind a curtain. My ala carte choice is lobster draped over risotto cake settled in a bath of consommé and vegetables. A glass of prestigious oolong Japanese tea sits to the right, apparently so artisanal that it must be served only in a wine glass. Somehow it all fits, the main absolutely stunning in flavour, a rich awakening under the lone spotlight cast from the clamshell of my bed. Another sheet mask marks two hours out from Tokyo on the eleven hour journey, while "last call" for consumables returns two pieces of chocolate ganache and a final glass of bubbly. It sits well to my right, in front of windows cracked only in the suggestion of real light as we bump down to Narita with twenty minutes spare on a clear spring afternoon. There are choice platitudes flying as we unload, though somehow real warmth emanates from the cultural script, and I am glad that I have seen it read by the very best. Striding out with my small group of fellow passengers known only to me as the tufts of heads, I meet Japan again, like a pilgrim returned.
A return to ground means a return to errands, traversing multiple floors in search of convenience stores, train offices and a postal desk found with the aid of a cute guard stationed by a Pokemon centre. It is decidedly smooth, only marred by the discovery of what is unfolding at another airport half way across the world. Onwards means downwards, descending to the Narita Express and pulling into Tokyo station just under an hour later beneath a fully blackened sky. The station is as always a madhouse, populated by seemingly the best dodgeball players of all time that hurtle out from every angle, never lifting eyes off the floor. Encumbered already with three bags, I lurch through the jammed arcade as best as I can before finding a familiar exit that breathes out into a taxi round. Hopping in the first open door, I am off to Asakusa and bringing my heart rate back to normal after a game of human pinball. Immediately the sights and sounds of Tokyo flood back in a crosswalk spilling with silent crowds, suited men walking as if back from battle beneath arching buildings that blend distinctly into night sky. Pulling into the hotel I am met by a charming team and bright new building that feels very much the obsidian oasis I crave. I fling my bags off in a tiny but delighting room and scoot back downstairs to make a late run to a local drugstore. The draw of meticulously labelled sunscreen is just too strong, wrapped tightly in a tax-free gajin-to-go bag with a hefty yet reasonable bill. The airy stroll makes one final detour at 7-11 for a salad and salad-flavoured chips, an odd marriage that works wonders on a gastric tract already pulsing with options. With all kinds of fullness I settle to bed between bags, the adjacent window that confronts a concrete wall now bathed in sheers, obscuring a view that might be everything.