The last time I posted I said I was restless, that I needed an adventure. My role as a chaperone of ten 8th grade students to Japan was to begin in a few days, and I’m here to tell you: the Universe answered in spades.
We embarked at 7am on Thursday, April 13th from Camden, Maine. We left Logan Airport in Boston at 1:20 in the afternoon, flew 13 hours, landed in Tokyo at 4pm Friday. The flight, landing, and luggage claim were uneventful, save for the fact the kids didn’t eat on the plane, and the masses of human beings crowding every inch of the airport, and our group moving like an amoeba in a petri dish, garnering our fair share of attention.
My co-chaperone purchased bus tickets to get us to the Hyatt in downtown Tokyo, 1.2 kilometers from our hotel (aptly called N.U.T.S) Which meant we needed to walk, twelve people as one, some of whom had slept a bit, and some of whom (ahem) had not, through downtown Tokyo crowds, on a Friday night, with a rudimentary internet map, no GPS, and no ability to read street signs in Japanese.
My task at the airport was to simply pick up reserved tickets for the JR Rail, which we were to use within the city for 3 days, then later to get on the bullet train to Aomori (and back) and also for an express train to get us directly back out to Narita Airport from Tokyo station. Clearly important. I had a nifty notebook provided to me by the woman who planned our trip down to the tiniest detail. In this binder were copies of the reserved tickets and a receipt of payment.
But no. No, dear readers, no. It was very much the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry argues that the ticket clerk knows how to take the reservation, but doesn’t know how to hold the reservation.
One hour. One hour of first waiting in line, then arguing, pointing, questioning, shaking my head, being yelled at, having the reservation banged out of my hand onto the counter in front of me. And no actual tickets given, until I paid for them with a credit card and left. I simply decided: she must be right. The louder she got, the more I believed her. ((Fast forward two days: the tickets actually were purchased twice. I had to return to a JR Rail Pass ticket office (while students were off on a ninja experience), find an English-speaking administrator and make it right.))
But in the meantime. Back at the airport. While I was re-purchasing tickets, we missed our bus to our hotel-ish. Remember this bus took us NEAR our hotel, not TO it. $350 wasted, and a second set of tickets for the bus now purchased. It was, at that point, 24 hours with no sleep.
We got off the bus at the Hyatt, and asked the doorman at that hotel to please set us off in the general direction of the NUTS hotel. Instead, he walked us to the subway station. Down a set of 30 stairs. Twelve people. Luggage. No sleep. We cannot figure out several things. One, which line to take. Two, how to purchase tickets. Three, how we let this guy motion for us to go down into the subway station and leave us there. Four, why our group of teenagers cannot, for the life of them, stand and wait patiently while we figure this out. They are loud, they’re standing in the way of other people purchasing tickets at the machines. They’re sitting on top of luggage, now bending wheels, and reminding me how I’ve not slept in 25 hours.
Back up Mt. Fuji to the street. We decided to stick with our plan and walk. 1.2 kilometers with a clear map would have been unfun enough. 1.2 kilometers, which turned into over an hour, was, well, rotten sushi. Eventually, somewhere in the center of downtown Tokyo on a Friday night, with crowds like none I’ve seen before, after schlepping luggage (some of it ridiculously oversized) and teenagers around (some of them ridiculously tired and at their wits end) we stopped and asked for help.
Help arrived! A man from Okinawa (who had lived in Canada) used his GPS to lead us to our hotel. A half an hour – clearly out of his way – for strangers. We found NUTS.
There is, alas, a reservation for 6 rooms! There is not, however, a working credit card. Because I purchased JR Rail tickets that weren’t meant to be purchased, the limit on our usage for the account for this day is overspent. Also, the owner of the hotel speaks no English. (Note to self: “Speaks English” means “come stay at our hotel – we’ll tell you what you want to hear to get your business!”) She’s trying to tell us that only 4 of the rooms come with breakfast. This, somehow, really pisses me off. I think it’s the lack of sleep: at this point, 27 hours.
I use my personal credit card and pay for the rooms. The kids use the elevator, go find their spaces, and eventually, I find mine. It is 11am again in my body. I’ve been awake for 28 hours. I take my shoes off. I rub my feet. I relay the craziness of the past four hours over and over in my head. I realize I hadn’t even noticed the city, not a building, not a thing.
I wash my face, fight tears. There’s a knock at the door. It’s my gang.
The real adventure begins.