The chase is on!

9 sushi pink  So, from Gate Five Two

          can the great white bird fly us

          to our wonderland?

Alarm clock goes off. 7:00 am. Time to finish packing, put on washing machine and dishwasher and prepare to leave. London: grey,wet chilly. Look at the weather forecast for Tokyo: 21 C and sunny. Oh where would we rather be? Pick up newspaper from the door mat. I thought I’d have the last delivery today as there would be time to read it on the way to the airport. What a mistake that was. Totally full of The Iron Lady Who Was Not for Turning; page after page of the stuff, guff and ill-remembered hagiography. Thankfully she didn’t make the sports pages although I quite expected a piece on her captaincy of Grantham Girls’ Netball team to feature. OK so some of you reading this will hold a differnt view but hey let’s get on and right the ills that face us now. At least we won’t be around for the funeral and all the attendant outpourings. Dee’s window for a break proves to be excellent timing after all.

So that and what follows should have been posted at Heathrow before we left but both WiFi networks available at Terminal 5 were barred by my system as posing severe threats. So by the time this sign came up I was a doubly-distressed would-be traveller.P1090072P1090071 This was not however until after a little last minute shopping in Boots and elsewhere which seems to accompany any trip however well planned.

The flight itself was long but uneventful and entirely sleep-free on account of leaving London at 13:30 and not being tired until shortly before we arrived in Japan some eleven hours later. Ah well we’ll just have to keep up and get going. One of the excellent flight crew who looked after  us in our cleverly selected emergency-exit-extra-legroom seat was amazed at the scope of our voyage into the relatively unexplored – at least by westerners – hinterland as well as the beaten track. She also confirmed sadly that not only had hanami come early this year because of the unusually warm spring (hands over ears Brits) but that last weekend there had been extremely strong winds which had blown much of what remained away. Ah well.

Until I phoned the airline to check that we could consolidate our two 20 kg allowances into one suitcase (we can’t) we had planned to travel with a cabin sized bag each and one large case between us to make travel around the country much of it by train, in-and-out of hotels etc easier to manage. Having checked two in off a trolley and taken one hand luggage piece each was fine but the fun began after passing through fairly efficient immigration and customs at Narita Airport. We had decided to travel into the centre with the Narita Express so Dee waited with the bags while I went to buy the tickets. It’s a good deal if you buy a ticket and a SUICA prepayment card together as you get a substantial discount and ¥2000 credit on the plastic top up card that can be used on almost all Tokyo transport and in a number of shops as an alternative to cash. I emerge with our tickets timed for the 10:18 and with seats 3A and B in Coach 9 reserved. All most splendid. Almost! Dee wanted to photograph one of the amazing vending machines that are found in locations all over the city and I suspect the country.

P1090076  Vending  P1090079 P1090080

This diversion was entirely worthy as they are amazing machines BUT it did mean that what with faffing about with four suitcases through a barrier and trying to get down an escalator, we missed the 10:18. A very friendly attendant said Dee should stay with the bags while I went to change the tickets. Isn’t it funny how a smiling, utterly polite ten-minutes-before Noriko can strike real fear into you with the words, “You must catch the 10:48. I can change this only once!” Boy did I scuttle back only to have former friendly platform assistant forget who I was and make me go back through the barrier before allowing me to rejoin my baggage wrangler wife.

When we did finally get onto the platform it was great to have confirmed what we’d been told that all rail signs are in English and Japanese and the loading of trains by coach and seat number is highly efficient and what helps the trains to run on time. I had hoped to post a picture of a very stylish Narita Express train but after carefully focusing the camera on where a good shot would be the bugger crept up – or rather whooshed up on me from the opposite direction and I had to abandon it and get the bags on board. The other thing to say not just down in the station and on the train itself but elsewhere is how clean everywhere is. As we expressed in towards Tokyo it became clear that we’d arrived on Washday Wednesday. House after house, apartment block upon apartment block had lines of laundry hanging out in the increasingly sunny day.

There’s lots more and we haven’t even reached Tokyo yet but as it’s nearly midnight here and I’ve been without sleep for about 35 hours you’ll have to wait for tomorrow for the next instalment.

However the Murakami quest has started in earnest with some highly professional research visits to Shinjuku bars and some details about the launch of the new novel on Friday.

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