Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day 1 (Wednesday, May 28/Thursday, May 29)

Hi, everybody, I hope you enjoy what I am about to do. My family and I recently went to Japan for two weeks. We were there for several reasons: to visit my wife’s family, to help our kids understand what it means to be Japanese, to spend time with friends of mine from school and from my years in Japan, and to have some good Japanese food. I am going to attempt to provide an interesting re-cap of the trip. Not every day will have pictures. (Trust me, you wouldn’t want to see my ugly face after I hadn’t shaved or showered for a day.) However, most days will. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

We rose at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning for a 7:30 a.m. flight. Our logic was an hour to get ready and an hour to drive to the airport, putting us at Hartsfield two hours before our flight. We didn’t need the hour prep time, as my wife, a master planner, had everything ready to go. (Yes, my wonderful wife planned everything.) We had looked forward to this trip since our last visit in 2004. However, we had made the conscious decision to return to Japan only about a year ago.

Our trip was to be on two airlines: Delta to LAX and then a six-hour layover before taking Japan Airlines (JAL) to Tokyo and on to Osaka. There were several reasons for this, but cost and convenience were biggest factors. My wife’s parents live in Los Angeles and Mo’s mother was coming with us for part of the trip. The layover gave us time with them. Also, on the way back, Mo and the kids would stay in L.A. for an extra week while I headed home to Atlanta and went back to work. The long layover ensured that I wouldn’t miss my flight home on Delta.

After the short visit in LAX, we boarded our JAL flight. (That second flight surprised Christopher. He thought we were already in Japan when we landed at LAX and did not want to get back on a plane.) The flight to Narita (the larger of Tokyo’s two airports) was just over 10-and-a-half hours. After take-off, we settled in to watch the in-flight movies on the personal screens in front of our seats. I first selected “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a movie I wanted to see for its historic value. However, when I turned it to the proper channel, the first thing I noticed was some half-naked, surgically enhanced women and a nude Tom Hanks, all playing around in a jacuzzi. It was then I remembered that U.S.-based carriers edit films for content and to fit the screen. Japanese carriers only edit to fit the screen. I switched and watched “The Gameplan,” with the kids, as Christopher was excitedly repeating the name of the film’s star: Duane “The Rock” Johnson. I watched Charlie Wilson’s War later while the kids slept. Though daylight continued outside the plane, inside the lights were dimmed to simulate night as most of the cabin slept. Somewhere, we crossed the International Date Line.

When we finally landed in Narita, it was Thursday afternoon. Customs went quickly. They took Mo’s and my picture and fingerprints, but opted not to take the boys. That evening, we caught a one-hour flight from Tokyo to Osaka. At Osaka, we were met by Mo’s Uncle Masao, who drove me and the baggage to his residence. Mo, her Mom, and the boys took a cab. Mo's aunt was waiting at home. Her cousin, Mina, arrived home later that evening.

After arrival, Mo unpacked and pulled out some of the gifts she brought her aunt and uncle. Mo had spent months searching for gifts and one of our suitcases contained almost nothing but these items. One of the items Mo picked for her uncle was a special Café du Monde brand coffee, based on the famous New Orleans eatery. Mo had never seen it before and, when she found it at Whole Foods, thought it perfect for her coffee-drinking uncle. However, Mo didn’t count on Mister Donuts. The donut chain, with many locations across Japan, offers a beignets menu. To complement this, the chain was importing Café du Monde coffee. It was more available in Japan than in the U.S. Mo laughed in disbelief when she found out.

Everybody talked for a while, but we finally hit the sack and tried to put ourselves on the current time zone. It had been about 28-30 hours, since we left our house in Buford.

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