Narita, Japan

Sitting reserve this month hasn’t been all that bad.  I did get to go to Narita, Japan this week.  Albeit for one day but hey I was in Japan.  I was able to get enough notice to bring a friend with me on my quick but well worth it trip.  My friend endured two 10 hour flights to spend 24 hours in a Japanese city.  I call that a true friend.  Our time in Japan started a little early as we landed earlier than expected.  Without wanting to waste our precious day in a foreign country we each took turns showering and changing in to more suitable clothes for the dense humidity than our travelling clothes.  Most of the hotels run a complementary shuttle from their location to the central area near the train station.  If yours does not there is also a circle bus that is few hundred yen (a couple of dollars) that goes from many hotels in to the station.  We met our pilots, another flight attendant and caught up with another couple of pilots from our airline in the lobby and they offered to show us around the village.  Narita is crawling with crew.  Most airlines servicing Tokyo’s Narita airport stay in the village of Narita at one hotel or another.  Tokyo is a couple of hours by bus when traffic is gridlocked and hotels are not inexpensive so most airlines opt to put employees up near the airport.  It is over an hour to get in to Tokyo by train and the timing of our arrival and departure make it difficult to go in and out of Tokyo without hitting rush hour or missing our pick up for the airport so we wisely opted to spend our 24 hours in Narita itself. Narita is more of a traditional style of Japanese culture and design when compared to the modern glass high rises of Tokyo but it is also very touristy.  I have spent time in the massive city and loved it but I was also happy to see more of Japan without it being as overwhelming as Tokyo can get. There is also a Buddhist temple, Narita-san temple, which dates back to the mid-10th century that I really wanted to see. Tagging along with the other flight attendant and a pack of pilots, or are they a herd of pilots? Perhaps a passel of pilots?  To reprase; we met up with a bunch of coworkers and followed them on a bus to the train station.  Had we not gone with them finding our own way would have been confusing at best despite the map I got from the front desk.  I found the route from where the bus we took to the main street of the Village area to be winding and as far from a straight shot as one can get.  Over an overpass and through the train station we emerged out on Omotesandō Road.  This is the main road of the tourist area.  It is lined with restaurants, stores and winds its way to the Narita-san Temple all of which are normally open.  This particular day however there was a typhoon warning which was unbeknownst to us and almost everything was closed and battened down.  Led by our rumbling stomachs our first stop was a restaurant called Ohsho.  It is two levels and the crew usually starts here for beer and Gyosa.  The Gyosa are served in a line of 6 so my co-workers will often say “let’s go for a beer and a line at Ohsho” I am told.  The gyoza portion was 235 Yen (around $3) for 6 dumplings.  I am not sure about the beer as I stuck to water.  We moved on from the florescent lit second floor of our first stop down the main street to the Jet Lag Club.  We had intended to stop at a noodle place for our main course but it had a hand written sign on its shutters stating it would be closed for the night.  We presumed later it was darkened due to the rain and storm that never materialised.  The Jet Lag Club was as good a place as any to regroup and decide where we would break bread next.  The Club is a bar that specialises in quenching the thirst of many a crew member from all over the world.  The walls are adorned with memorabilia from just about every airline to have landed at Narita Airport in recent years.  The patrons are not locals and the drinks vary from imported to Japanese.  It was one of the only places I was able to obtain a Diet Pepsi.  I noticed last time I was in Japan that diet pop is hard to come by as most stores and restaurants stock Coke Zero.  Over a libation we came to the consensus to try an all you can eat place that is a favourite of pilots.  We walked in the drizzling rain to the place my crew referred to as “The Bon”.  It did not have an English sign and when I showed the name of the place to a friend who reads Japanese she noted nowhere does it have anything that could be interpreted as “The Bon”, so why everyone called it by that moniker I do not know but it was well known by that title by our airline and others.  The menu is set as far as the food choices go.  You get the same five courses and when the food on the plates has been eaten it is refilled quickly.  The nosh is as follows; a green salad with Japanese dressing, the very Japanese French fry and ketchup course, then gyosa, a plate brimming with teriyaki chicken, another with stir-fried vegetables and lastly a scoop of ice cream and a pancake for those who still have room.  The way you order is by choosing your drink.  Soft drinks are unlimited but are served in schooner glasses that I would be able to swim in let alone ever have a chance to finish and have refilled.  Beer and spirits are sold by glass, regular or large, and wine is per glass or bottle.  One drink with food is around 1480-1880 yen a person ($15-20 roughly).  The food was good the gyosa were more flavourful and double seared than Ohsho but much smaller and less traditional.  The chicken was my favourite, it was very flavourful and the sauce was really good.  The food was far from traditional Japanese food though.  The flight attendants we have on our crew that grew up in Japan rarely frequent “the Bon” as they prefer something that harkens them back to their roots rather than the westernised fare here.  One area I will say the second floor establishment could improve on is their cleaning.  It reminded me of the greasy spoon diners back in North America.  They have tasty food but you wouldn’t want to look too closely at the state of the restaurant in the daylight.  We left the all-you-can-eat diner feeling so full I was sure we would be wider than the skinny shoulder on the road that acted as a sidewalk could accommodate.  I was surprised at how early the sun seemed to set.  It was barely 7pm and the sky was as pitch black as it was at midnight.  Being closer to the quarter has that effect though. We lost half of our contingency to jetlag as we continued on our evening of fun and eating adventure.  The couple that bowed out with stomachs full and eye lids lowering did so when we walked past the bus stop on our way to the karaoke club.  I kind of felt like I was Waiting for Godot with the typhoon that left Narita deserted.  The Cage, a karaoke bar that crews frequent is on the second floor of a building not far from the train station the other way from the restaurants we ate at.  We were the only patrons which was probably best as even I realise I cannot carry a tune.  I sang two songs, Octopus’s garden from a Japanese favourite The Beatles with my friend, and the Clash’s London’s Calling.  We each had to order a drink in order to sing.  They have a selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic liquids available.  A plain pineapple juice ran 400 yen (about $4.50 dollars).  All but one of us sang a couple of songs before jetlag got the best of us and we made our way back to the hotel to turn in.  On a side note, the Cage does not feature the swankiest toilet facilities.  In Japan unisex toilets are common, not unlike airplanes, and the stalls are fairly tiny.  I was lucky the spider I was sharing this particular cubicle with was small and blended in to the dingy walls or I may have been waiting until we got back to the hotel. The next morning my friend and I ventured in to the village by ourselves on the hotel bus.  Normally I bring breakfast but as I was unsure of what I could bring in to the country through customs we opted to stop at McDonald’s for an egg mcmuffin.  It tasted no different than those at home, or at least it tasted no different than I imagine them to taste back home as I don’t know when the last time I ate a fast food breakfast was.  It was fast and cheap, ebbed the hunger pains I am surprised I had after all I ate the night before.  We easily wound our way down Omotesandō to the Narita-san Temple as we had been shown the way the night before.  The entrance to the temple grounds is deceiving it makes the area it covers look small and it is far from it.  We started up the stairs and in to the temple then wandered our way around the gardens, burial grounds and ponds.  The vegetation was lush and well guided by that I mean the trees are often teased, pruned and bent in to the desired shapes.  The burial grounds are peppered around the area hither and nither.  The headstones and monuments are so different from western style ones they are like their own version of art installations.  The weather was perfect for ambling the grounds.  It started misty and rained ever so slightly but it was a warm rain.  The wetness and humidity kept a lot of people away so we were able to sightsee without tripping over oodles or even any other tourists.  We found a calligraphy museum nestled in the hills of the temple grounds.  I am not sure if it normally has a fee based entry but there were large signs that the current exhibit was at no charge to view.  The scrolls displayed were beautiful but could not be photographed.  There were both modern and ancient displays but of course everything was written in Japanese.  What I imagined were beautiful poems and sage words could have been no more than ancient Kijiji “for sale” ads and I would be none the wiser.  It was neat to see how each artist has a different style and uses brush strokes and ink so differently to make their mark as an artist.  Another point of interest near the end of our walk was the Daitō.  When entering the Japanese holy buildings those that enter must remove their shoes and either place them in a bag and carry them or leave them in numbered cubbies depending on the building.  This particular building asked to for the latter procedure to be followed.  We were the only two people in what I assume could be a very busy part of the attraction as there were over a hundred slots for shoes.  Our shoes looked so lonely in an empty vestibule.  The foyer had exhibits filled with statues, carvings and panels that are a century and a half old.  The upstairs was beautiful with guilded and opulent carvings depicting gruesome figures.  Upon laying eyes on the statues I felt so ignorant at not knowing more about the buddist faith and its principal players.  We spent a good couple of hours wandering the grounds and visiting buildings. After leaving the Narita-san temple we perused the shops that had reopened after it was clear the typhoon was not going to hit the area.  I found a place to buy a few souvenirs for myself and some friends back home.  Whilst browsing the shopkeeper asked me if I was aircrew and told me of the store’s discount to crew.  Once at the till I simply had to show my company’s ID card and got 20% off most of the items I was purchasing and paying cash rather than by credit card garnered me an additional 10% off the rest of the items.  The shop was on the main street and was called Souvenir Shop Kyomasu and has an awning that says Kimono and Doll on it.  Most shops do offer a crew discount that we went in to so if you are shopping in the village, ask, you may be pleasantly surprised.  We filled the shopping bags I had brought with goods from tourist shops and grocery stores alike.  Shopping is kind of like a sport with most flight attendants.  I was bringing back miso soup mix, and spices that whilst I can get them at home they are a fraction of the cost here.  I was also sent to buy the green tea Kit Kat bars for a friend.  We ran in to an American flight attendant who was buying her weight in salad dressing.  I am assuming she really likes Japanese salad dressing and is giving one to everyone she has ever known to eat on everything that goes in their mouths for the next month, or she is mainlining roasted sesame dressing like a heroin addict.  She must have built good biceps making her regular dressing runs over the years as I am surprised one person could carry the sheer weight in her carrier bags. My friend and I were very hungry after our morning of quiet contemplation at the temple so we stopped at the restaurant that had been closed the night before.  The crews call it “student noodle” but it is actually the Noodle Shop Ramen Bayashi.  Why student noodle?  I have heard it is the chairs that remind people of school desks but I don’t see it.  My guess it that it is the ramen, when in university all one can afford as a student are the ichiban ramen noodles.  That is only my supposition anyway.  I chose the red curry soup and my friend had the soy sauce vegetable soup.  They were both really good and huge for around 800 yen each.  I ended up taking half of mine to go for an extra 150 yen for a take away container.  I had mine cold before we left for the hotel after our naps for the long flight home. The day went fast especially with a good rest before an all-night flight back home.  It was excellent to have a friend come with me; I definitely do not take advantage of travelling with someone enough.  I really liked being able to make my friend’s dream of seeing Japan come true if only for 24 hours in a small town.  We went home full of gyosa, and experiences we would have never had anywhere else.