5:30 AM NZT
5:55 am – Only Tim is at the airport to see me off. He hugs me before I go through the gate, proving once and for all that he’s not a cyberman.
6:00 am – I’m bored. Really, really bored.
6:01 am – Still bored.
6:03 am – Guess.
6:04 am – Do you think Bentham and Kant would’ve considered that stupid trolley problem an issue of the ethics of commission against omission, or is that too much of a jurisprudential lens?
6:05 am – I’d better look at the time, it’s been ages and I’m bored. It’s been ages, I’ve been here forever. I resist checking the time. I must check the time. It’s unbearable. Can I countenance it? Can I bear the weight of chronological responsibility? Can I--
Sigh. This is going to be a long trip.
6:15 am – First flight leaves. I scour the plane for any sign of a Japanese and/or potentially Japanese person who may be joining me on my later flight. Does that make me racist? My heart says no but my body says yes. If that’s so wrong, I don’t want to be right. And if— wait, the flight attendants are coming.
7:00 am – Despite the mere hour length of the journey, flight attendants insist on making me take off my headphones to be served an unnecessary dessert. Alright, it’s Kapiti ice-cream, what, do you want an award for in-flight service or something because you chose the most expensive brand? I’d rather save on the price of my ticket. Fine, it’s delicious. Don’t look at me like that.
7:20 am – I snap a few photos of clouds that nobody could want to see, as they can’t be any more special than the thousands of photos better photographers have taken of clouds from planes. Did I mention I almost cried leaving Wellington? Not for family, turns out that didn’t bother me. Love that city though.
7:52 am – All announcements at Auckland airport are, bizarrely, bilingual in English and Chinese. No Te Reo Māori, even though that one is an actual official language.
7:55 am – And apparently, Cantonese too. English, Mandarin and Cantonese. No Māori. There’s a Race Relations Commission case in here, I can feel it.
8:01 am – I’m asked to buy chocolate at the last minute by Yuri. Whittaker’s chocolate is $9 a block. My wallet self-immolates out of protest.
9:46 am – Coffee, good coffee.
10:00 am – The boarding has been delayed a little. There’s nervousness in the air, it’s kind of… charged. I look up. There she is. We both smile a little, sheepishly. Look away, don’t want the other person to think- think anything like that. They’re not going to see if you just get one more look, they won’t see. But they do. She’s looking back as well, the same expression, the slight embarrassment. Announcer calls – boarding time. This is it. It must be fate, she’s going to be on the seat next to me, these tickets, our tickets… they’re connected. What am I going to say? What should I open with? We’re definitely going to be sitting next to each other, I’ve seen enough anime to know how this works.
10:30 am – The flight leaves, and sitting next to me is a middle-aged couple from Okayama. Their English is good. My heart isn’t, I mean that thing is crushed now.
11:03 am – Check the in-flight content: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Jackpot. No wait, only three episodes, and from the latest season which I haven’t seen, and out of order. Nooooo—
11:28 am – Airport girl and I have by this time opened up our third shopfront business based on the concept of spear fishing in the Bahamas and had five beautiful children, all named in alphabetical order. The imagination is a wonderful tool of great power and great responsibility.
11:37 am – Against all odds, I have Dolly Parton’s Jolene stuck in my head. Is this punishment for thinking thoughts about airport girl? I just wanted a Caribbean family life involving spear-fishing, hedge fund equity, and a jovial yet mysterious native man who gives me advice on bait each morning, is that so wrong?
2:00 pm NZT – I try to watch La La Land. It’s like golden-age Hollywood without the talent of golden-age Hollywood. Next to Gene Kelly’s tap choreography, Ryan Gosling looks like an awkward stick insect in skates. The musical long-takes would be impressive were it not for that song Start All Over having done it more impressively. And when your cinematography is less impressive than a Miley Cyrus music video, you know you should go home and rethink your life.
4:00 pm NZT – I have concluded that after five hours on an aeroplane, all life before the aeroplane ceases to exist, or have existed. The interior of this 747 is all I have known; it is all I ever will know. There is no past, no New Zealand, no Japan, I am at one with my horrifically cramped legs and impending deep vein thrombosis.
Four Hours Later…
6 PM JST (10 PM NZT)
I emerge bleary eyed from the plane and stumble onto the set of World War Z. All around are clinical white walls and officials wearing illness face masks beckoning the horde through. Japan takes my fingerprints – again since I’d already had that done in Okayama in 2009 – and I’m entered into the system as an alien. Ushered along, like the rest of them, in an endless line of sweaty travellers. An official-seeming blue-overall’d man asks for my visa. I mean, probably. He did grab my passport to look at my visa, but for all I knew through the fog of my half-comatose Japanese he had asked for my second born child in a sacrifice ritual. I oblige, signing the papers and/or the souls of my progeny away. Blue overalls directs me to a woman at a counter.
「留学生？」― Are you a foreign exchange student?
「あっ、あぁ。留学生です。」－ Oh- ah, yeah. I’m a foreign exchange student.
They usher me along to a different line. This had better be the luxury one. Yeah, that’s right. I’m bringing educational prestige to your country. This is priority luxury tokubetsu queueing, just for me.
THE LIMOUSINE BUS
6:30 PM JST
My hands are burning stiffly as I drag my 25 kg suitcase which lacks proper wheels and my electric guitar hard-case along the concourse. Right. Easy. I have printed instructions on how to get a ticket, it’s not that hard, it can’t be that hard. All I need to do is get to a ticket machine for Stop 8, the one going to Kyōto Station. I fumble through the machine menus. Eventually the AI gets as frustrated as I am. “Would you like English?” the cheery robot girl asks. Yes, English. I press the button
“¡Modo Español!” Robot girl helpfully informs me.
No, no no no no no. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring don’t make me beg for it. Please, give me English!
“Yes! Yes, I’m sure Genki-girl. I don’t speak Spanish.”
Finally, I wade through the menus again, this time in an intelligible language and not-insane writing system. See, a ticket for the limousine bus, and it only took ten minutes and three languages. Hold on, none of these locations say Kyōto Station. I look up above the machine. Stops 5 and 6. Not Stop 8.
I do get to the right ticket machine and queue up. A young woman behind me asks me in Japanese whether I’m here to play at a live concert. I look down at my electric guitar case. “No”, I hear myself say for reasons unknown to God or man. I could’ve said yes and seemed vaguely cool for once in my life. There is an awkward silence for two minutes.
“I’m an exchange student,” I say finally.
“Oh, which university?” she asks.
“This girl here!” she motions as if there’s someone beside her. I look down, and it turns out there is. “She goes Dōshisha too!”
“Interesting,” I mutter. An old man beside them nods as if he’s part of their group.
“And this man is a professor at Dōshisha,” the old man nods again. He is part of their group. I instantly regret having used laconic, informal Japanese when potentially my future professor was part of the conversation. He hands me his business card, and I realise after putting it away that I know some proper business card etiquette, none of which involves shrugging then stuffing the other person’s business card in one’s wallet without offering one’s own card. I have no business cards yet. The limousine bus arrives, and it’s nothing like a limousine. More like a chartered bus in New Zealand, without the chartering.
KYŌTO STATION AND THE HOTEL
9 PM JST (1 AM NZT)
I get off the limousine bus at Kyōto Station, dragging my non-wheeled suitcase from hell and guitar along. I’m slightly tired by this point, which is a euphemism for please kill me now I regret everything let me leave Japan. My hotel room is somewhere in the area, and I have a street name, which would be helpful if I knew the area.
「地獄だ。」I mutter. 「これは必ず地獄はずだ。」
It can’t get worse than this, I think to myself.
It begins to rain.
I arrive at Hotel Excellence, my residence for the night, in a distinctly un-excellent state. The night receptionist greets the Goosebumps monster that I must look like. I take the lift to my room on the tenth floor, open the door with my key card after thinking I’d lost my key card, and collapse onto the bed.
One day down, three hundred and sixty-three to go. At least, I think, it can’t get worse than this.