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Asagaya and heading home


How can I be happy? I am about to return to a country where the toilets have at most two buttons and no seat warmers. But the tickets are booked and there are no cyclones, typhoons or other disasters standing in our way. It’s almost time to go back to my first home.

First B wants to do some “local shopping”. So we catch the Chuo Line up a few stations to Asagaya, a residential area with a number of Shotengai, covered and uncovered arcades leading away from the station and narrow alleys lined with bars. It is an interesting area for a wander around. We are mainly looking, do some shopping for toothbrushes and sweets from Seiyu, a Wal-Mart owned supermarket/minor department store. We skipped breakfast and lunch is ramen and gyoza at a small restaurant near the entrance to the Pearl Centre shotengai.

With the help of a staff member, I manage to purchase tickets at a branch of Lawson to the Ghibli Museum for a friend travelling to Japan in May. There are some missing instructions online – at the end you are asked to fill in a name in hiragana, then a phone number and email address.

B finds a pair of shoes at a branch of Chiyoda.

We return to Shinjuku, wander through the shops at Mylord, then go to Yodobashi where I buy a n-scale model of a Toyoko Inn building for the model train layout. Finally, a couple of trips to Uniqlo, the last one in the same building as our hotel. At the Muji on a different floor I see a Chinese tourist using a cotton bud from the makeup bar to clean her ear in public. Classy.

We have so much luggage to carry to the station, six bags of varying sizes and one box containing a doona. This is just plain silly. We really need to stop shopping in Japan. I want a dog robot to carry our stuff instead of trying to drag it all the way up to the Shinjuku Station South Entrance in order to catch the Narita Express.

Maybe next time we’ll use the hotel’s luggage forwarding service. Unfortunately it needs to be done the day before.

We are rather early to the platform. That’s unusual.Once aboard the Narita Express we all fall asleep for a patches. The skies are dramatic, a threatening grey, but as always it is nice to relax for the long journey to the airport.

At the airport we grab a trolley then wind our way up the escalators to the third floor departures level. Once checked in we go straight through security and immigration to the Qantas Business Lounge, walking through the futuristic looking corridor where once a shuttle train ran.

The lounge isn’t as nice at in Sydney. The food is more of the snacking variety. B and Alex devoured the strawberry slices. I had little, my stomach feeling typically knotted in anticipation of the flight. It’s necessary to obtain an access card to use the showers, which lack a dressing area.

Our aircraft is VH-OEI, a 747-400ER with the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli decals. The day also marks the anniversary of 80 years of international services for Qantas. That first flight carried two passengers. This flight holds over 400 and by the looks of the crowd there are few, if any, empty seats.

Despite being ready on time we are delayed by the queue of eight other aircraft in front of us, at least 16 minutes according to the captain. As we take off there are city lights below us, then they disappear into cloud. A storm flashes nearby.

The turbulence of the initial climb puts me in a poor mood for the remainder of the flight, feeling anxious whenever we strike a rough patch in the sky. The problem is that we flown the route so many times before that I can remember entering stormy skies where we had to weave to avoid the worst of the clouds. Those situations are more memorable than the many smooth patches.

The captain promises a smooth flight.

There is no Moon for most of the flight and it is very dark outside. I decide to while away as much of the time as possible with movies, though my eyes are frequently drawn to the window, trying to glimmer any information possible from the skies outside. It’s interesting how much light is actually provided by the stars. Perhaps there was high cloud initially, as the view seems to get brighter later with the wings being more illuminated

I watch The Imitation Game about Alan Turing. A bit more mathematics would have been nice. Then Gravity, which was okay though sometimes lacking in believability. Some patches were a bit too close to home when traversing rough areas of sky. Finally, I watch the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes. I’d seen the sequel years earlier on another return flight from Japan and as fluff goes it is more than watchable.

I am hungry by the time dinner was served, but I couldn’t finish the meal of barbecue beef, vegetables and turmeric rice, nice though it was. The strawberry compote definitely goes down a treat. Alex nibbles at his spaghetti and meatballs child’s meal and B has nothing.

In the morning I have the seasonal fruit platter again. Such perfect food for flying.

Time passes reasonably quickly. As we approach Queensland through the Coral Sea we come upon yet another flashing storm cloud, but this seems to be a band of them. I am sure that the seatbelt lights will be activated, but they never are. The morning skies seem quite rough, no quiet carpet of cloud today.

As we descend into Sydney the scenery outside is stunning. Pastel yellow and grey, valleys filled with cotton wool fog, hazy high cloud. We loop around for an approach to the airport from the south, the route giving gorgeous views of the city and the bays. I love to watch the “heavies” loop around like this, silhouetted against such skies in the morning. Now I am flying it.

A smooth landing and we are home to 27 degree warmth. The manager of the cabin crew, who are, let’s say, mature age, announces that this is the last flight for one of them and the cabin breaks out in applause. It’s been a very nice flight, showing 80 years of international experience.

Immigration is surprisingly quick, but the luggage takes forever to come out. Then there is queue for customs and quarantine inspection, and wouldn’t you know it but a flight or three from China has come in, with queue cutting passengers.

Actually, their presence may have made things easier for us, as we were waved through baggage inspection despite declaring foodstuffs. I imagine that Japan is a low risk country.

We catch an expensive taxi ride home with a driver with some sort of major tic in his arms and legs and a proclivity for tailgating. Going in the opposite direction are many cars driven by mainland Chinese, including one, an expensive Land Rover of course, blocking the intersection into the M5.

So tired when we reach home. A shower then a collapse into bed. I have to wake up to collect our dog from the kennel before they close. Then a walk with the dog and Alex on a scooter to buy a lunch of banh mi from the local bakery.

I may have complained about the mainlanders above, but they, like the Vietnamese refugee and her Macanese husband who run the aforementioned bakery are some of the people who make up the richness of this country in contrast with the largely monocultural Japan.

Sadly the holidays are coming to an end and we must go back to work and school in a couple of days time. Until the next journey…

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