I don’t need the white weather report to tell me that it is gray and rainy in Osaka.
The first time I ran the Boston Marathon, I made many mistakes. Some of my mistakes were the kind of big, glaring mistakes that almost everyone makes – like going out too fast or not fueling properly – but some of my mistakes were small and subtle. One of the subtle mistakes I made was not having an end-to-end plan and focusing so much mental energy on the start and middle of the race – on getting to, and over, the hills — that I was ill-prepared for the final miles. The slog from Chestnut Hill into Boston were a weary and profoundly disappointing journey.
I think I might have made a similar mistake in my preparations for traveling to Japan; I had been so sick in the few days leading up to my first flight, that I had fallen into the trap of thinking that my greatest challenge would be getting on the plane and surviving that long day of flying. I focused all my mental energy on that immediate goal, and assumed that once I made it to my hotel in Osaka, I would be fine. It would turn out to be more complicated than that.
My trip started on Tuesday morning, February 21 in Boston. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and was relieved to be feeling better than the previous day. I wasn’t feverish or achy, and other than being a bit weak, I was feeling ready for the day ahead. At 6:15 we left the house, and less than a half hour later Ann was dropping me off at Terminal B and wishing me good luck.
My first flight left Boston at 8:30 a.m. and arrived in Toronto about 10:20. So far, so good. I had taken the advice of a travel book that had suggested was wearing two watches, one set to origin time, and one to destination time. Noting that it was now past midnight in Japan, I thought the best thing to do was try to nap, or at least wear a dark sleep mask to minimize my exposure to light. In theory, this would help me make the ultimate time adjustment more easily.
At 1:00 p.m. local time (3 a.m. Japan time), boarding began for the flight to Tokyo. It seemed to me that about three-quarters of the passengers were Japanese, and many of them were wearing face masks. This reminded me of my obligation to do my best to prevent others from catching what I had, and I fished in my bag for my own surgical mask and put it on. At 1:30, we were in the air.
For the next thirteen and a half hours, I tried to make myself at home. I tried to nap early, and then become more active in sync with morning, Japan time. I was also very conscious of the need to walk around a lot to avoid any unpleasantness about blood clots and such. It helped that I was drinking water more or less constantly, and had to use the restrooms every 30 minutes. (My daughter swears it’s possible to jog in place in the restrooms, but I did not try this. Instead, I headed to the galley in the back of the plane, made friends with the flight attendants, and explained my history with long-haul flights. After that, they seemed perfectly happy to have me doing exercises and “wall running” as much as I wanted).
I had another secret weapon for the trip. I had invested in some good noise-canceling headphones, and some audio books, and I found it very relaxing to just sit and listen without trying to sleep or read. Much to my surprise, the hours went by quickly. I think it really helped that I didn’t set my heart on trying to sleep. I find it very hard to sleep on planes, and when I do fall asleep, I always wake up with the illusion that several hours have passed, and then find out it’s only 15 minutes. Very disappointing. So I kept my expectations low.
But even though the flight went well, really, better than I had expected, after 9 or 10 hours in the air, I began to hit a wall. It was now nearing midnight, origin time, although it was mid-afternoon Japan time. We were scheduled to land in Tokyo at 4:30, or 3 a.m., origin time, which suddenly seemed like a miserable idea. Feeling like maybe I’d better try to hedge my bets, sleeping-wise, I let myself doze off for a few minutes as the plane flew over Hokkaido.
After 13 hours and 25 minutes flying time, we touched down at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Once on the ground, we taxied for what seemed to be twenty minutes on our way to the Gate, and with every minute that went by, I grew more morose. I still had another six hours of travel in front of me, but I felt like I had about a half hour of battery life left. This was where my single-minded mental focus on the start and middle of the trip began to work against me. Mentally, I was ready to be done, but I had a long way to go, yet. At Haneda, I would need to retrieve my checked bag, get through customs, purchase a Japanese SIM card for my phone, take a 20-minute shuttle from the International terminal to the Domestic terminal, re-check my bag, take the hour and fifteen-minute flight to Osaka International, retrieve my checked bag again, find and take the shuttle to the Washington Hotel, and hope that my reservation was still valid (I had booked it weeks and weeks ago in the U.S. – how did I know what might happen to it?).
I had been excited to practice speaking Japanese, but at this point, I was fading fast and having a hard time communicating even in English. Too bad, because this was precisely the moment in the trip when English became a lot less useful as a means of making myself understood,
Sitting in the Haneda Airport domestic terminal waiting to board my fight to Osaka, I experienced a real low point. As far as my body and mind were concerned it was now 4:30 a.m., and that can be a black time even at home, let alone at a strange airport with no one around to share the long minutes of waiting. I was among a hundred Japanese travelers, the only foreigner as far as the eye could see, and I desperately wanted to lie down and get some rest. But fear of missing the call to board kept me awake and anxious.
I think there’s an art to traveling lightly and easily, but unfortunately, it’s an art that has always eluded me.
Tyler has it. He isn’t phased by the physical demands of travel, and seems to shift smoothly into the demands of a strange place, including the local time. Nor is he overwhelmed by not speaking the local language. He does a good job taking care of himself mentally and physically. And, being of a different generation, he effortlessly informs social media of his status with cheerful updates.
By contrast, I seem to have the knack for making choices that turn travel into a grueling test of endurance. I walk when I should take the streetcar, or take the streetcar when I should shell out for a taxi. I sleep fitfully, jet-lagged and anxious. I haven’t learned how to be content with posting a few photos and captions and calling it a day. Every little challenge feels overwhelming and overly consequential. I take too much to heart.
I finally boarded the flight to Osaka at 8:40 pm local time, and we landed at 10:00. It took me half an hour to retrieve my bag, find my way to ground transportation, and ride the shuttle to the Washington Hotel, about 15 minutes from the airport.
Through these steps, I really tried to interact with airport personnel, the shuttle drivers, etc. in Japanese. Unlike in all my previous interactions with Japanese people in the United States, few people showed any inclination to switch to English.
At 11:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. origin time, and 28 hours since I had woken up in Newton), I finally lay down and closed my eyes. I took a light sedative so that I wouldn’t wake up too soon.
Tomorrow I would figure out how to make the two-hour trip by train to Otsu.