Arrival in Japan

June 9th, 2007 by Potato

So, almost exactly 24 hours after I left my parents house (and about 25 hours since waking up), we finally got to the hotel.

The flight was actually not too bad (bearing in mind that it was a 12-hour flight). We were lucky and didn’t have anyone sitting in the 3rd seat beside us (the plane is laid out in 3 rows of 3), which gave us a lot of room to spread out and get WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos going. The plane, a brand-new Boeing 777, had a bunch of neat amenities to make the flight go a bit better. There was a selection of on-demand movies on the screens in the seat backs in front of us, as well as power outlets for our laptops (2 outlets per 3 seats). Unfortunately, the outlets seemed to have extremely low-amperage breakers, because the power would keep shutting off (there’s a small green light to indicate when the outlet is energized) with my laptop on. I could charge it when it was off though, and Dave had no problem running his non-beastly laptop. With a 12-hour flight even being able to use the laptop for an hour every 3 is a decent compromise (and if I had taken Wayfare up on her offer to take her laptop, I might have done even better). While I’m on the subject of laptops, I should also note that we got the internet in the room working so I can blog and check my email — my STMP server isn’t letting me send any (not a big surprise there), but there’s still webmail for sending. Dave’s using my computer at the moment as well, partly because we only have one ethernet port, and partly because his laptop has a 3-prong grounded plug, whereas all the outlets here are 2-prong ones. It is convenient for the most part, since it’s the same 2 prongs (at the same voltage and roughly the same frequency) that we have in North America, but is unfortunate when you get a 3-prong outlet like that :(

Anyhow, the service on the plane was pretty good. The seats had enough leg room that I wasn’t too cramped (though I would be a bit if I had my bag under the seat in front of me instead on the empty seat beside me — I might have to use the overhead bins for the way back). The flight attendants were all pretty good, and were especially free with the drinks and snacks this time (none of this tiny glass of Coke — they gave me the whole can :) In fact, I find it weird how good Air Canada is once you get in the air, and how actively hostile to their customers they are at the ticketing phase. For instance, their tickets are generally non-refundable, unchangeable (but, for a fee, you can opt to change them, for a second fee, later on… such BS). They didn’t end up getting my request for a veggie meal (the travel agent didn’t seem to put it through right, and I forgot to call AC directly), but when I asked one of the flight attendants for more of the corn chip things, he gave me two big handfuls of them :)

I lost my watch on the plane, it was really strange how it disappeared. I was trying to put it in my pocket, and dropped it down beside the seat near the window. When I had a chance, I got down on the floor and looked around for it (something else that would have been difficult with a 3rd, strange, person in that seat), but couldn’t find it. I figured it went behind me to the next seat back, but when the people back there got off the plane and I went to look, there was no sign of it. Some flight attendants helped look when the plane was empty, and we did everthing including tearing off the velcroed-on seat covers and cushions, with no sign of it. It simply vanished!

After that, we breezed through customs. The lineup wasn’t too bad, and they had absolutely no questions for us other than “anything to declare?” Waiting around on the plane meant we didn’t have to wait for our bags, and went on to the train. That, however, was a bit of a problem. We each had about 20,000 Yen (roughly $200) in cash, which should be plenty for lunches, trinkets, cabs, and the like, and we planned to put everything else (like train tickets) on VISA. Unfortunately, the train only took cash, despite having fancy machine-readable tickets. So, we parted with nearly all our cash, and headed out on what the conference organizers hailed as a 4.5 hour train ride. It came out closer to 6 hours, and would have been over 7 if our plane wasn’t early. Part of the problem is that the BEMs officials, aside from taking glee in torturing their scientists with obscure travel destinations and terrible planning, thought that Nartia airport was actually in Tokyo (from their description, attached directly to the Tokyo train station), rather than having its own train station over an hour away.

The Japanese trains are quite efficient, timely (every station has at least one white-gloved official with a stopwatch), and clean. I found the whole automatic ticket process really confusing though: we got 4 tickets to get from the airport to Kanazawa, an overall fare ticket, as well as a ticket for each train along the way. Different gates wanted different tickets, and combinations of different tickets, and we always got it wrong and have the gate beep and close on us. Then the officials would help us, and take our tickets, and we had to try to ask for them back (to get reimbursed by work). The Shinkansen (bullet train) wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting, at least at first. There weren’t any reading lights or individual air vents, and it didn’t really get up to speed until after we got out of the city (over an hour before we got over 200 km/h by my extremely rough eyeball estimate). The last train in our link, which took over 3 hours, was pretty painful. It was really hot and stuffy, and despite getting a seat in a non-smoking car, someone in there was smoking. It was also pretty noisy and rough — it rocked and jerked up and braked a lot, with a lot of squealing wheels.

Finally, after 24 hours of travelling, we got to our hotel. Checking in was pretty rough — I know my Japanese is worse than their English, but it didn’t make the process any smoother. The hotel has a 1 room, 1 key policy, which is pretty rough with 2 people in a room who are probably going to be attending different talks at different times… a policy that’s made more painful by the fact that everything in the room turns off if the keyplate isn’t left in the slot by the door (so while we’re out, the room gets hot and sticky, and if someone wants to walk off for a bit at night, the other one has to be ready to let him in — if they fall asleep, the one out for a walk might be SOL, but if the one walking takes the key, the one staying won’t have any lights). Dave suggested that we leave the key at the front desk when we go out, and then whoever gets back first could pick it up without worrying… but that seemed like a painful idea to begin with, then we got a call this morning asking for “Mr. Gen” — turns out Gen’s registered to our room, and they have no idea who we are. I don’t think I’ll be handing the key over just yet.

The phone says they charge for local calls, but I wanted to know if that applied to toll-free calls as well (for my calling cards); the front desk had no idea what I was talking about, which is just as well: the phone connection in the room is terrible, so I was better off using the pay phone anyway (I can call out for free from there — at almost $1/min on my phone card).

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