Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finally Here!

The feeling that you are in Japan begins when you get to the terminal at your connecting airport. I arrived at the Northwest Terminal in Detroit yesterday. There were Japanese flight attendants making polite announcements over the loudspeaker, groups of school children wearing stylish J-punk cloths, oziisans and obaasans (grandparents) waiting patiently, young women with lots of make-up and artificially lightened hair reading magazines with their legs crossed, displaying their kinky boots and lace hemmed tights; everything out of a Tokyo subway but misplaced in an American airport. I could feel my journey just beginning. I was thinking of snapping photos of the behemoth 747's lined up to carry people across the universe, but I wasn't in the mood for trigger happy cliches. Somehow, within the hour, we all boarded a gargantuan aluminum tube and here I am 24 hours later on the other side of the Pacific.

I got off the plane and rushed with my luggage to immigration to beat the lines. Half the people on my flight were in transit to China (four more hours seemed almost worse than the initial twelve), and the rest bound for Japan must have been too disoriented from the gruelling flight, since I was far and away the first to make it to customs.

The immigration official was a skinny Japanese man with a typical endearing accent that made him seem like a child. Next to the officer was a computer with a screen, fingerprint scanner, and mugshot camera, but in typical Japanese fashion, its white plastic construction resembled a shopping mall photobooth (pelicula) more than a government identification system. I inserted both index fingers and leaned in for the camera. When it snapped my picture, a friendly digital bell sounded and a thank you message accompanied by flowers and leaves showed on the LCD display. I half expected to see my picture show up on screen with flowers, stars, and other silly effects. With my finger, I would write in some witless message on the touch screen and then the robot would print out 5 wallet sized mugshots of my jet-lagged face. The aura of cuteness completely overshadowed the seriousness of the moment. The ex-Imperial government was watching me, comparing me to list of serial killers and fugitives, confirming that I was just a benign tourist with no upstanding parking tickets. And if I find myself in any legal trouble in the next four months, they have immediate access to my prints and identity. They could search every bag, interrogate me, or even worse, deny me entry due to some flaw of paperwork or formality. At the moment however, all I could think about was how adorable the ID computer was.

I found my way through the airport to the train station and bought a ticket to Chiba. While dragging my bags onto the train, I was struck by the characteristic smell, a light stench of soy sauce, fried rice, and oily noodles. In essence, it was the greasy smell of Japan. I don't think I've experienced the odor since I had last been here three years ago.

An hour went by eavesdropping on passengers, watching bright signs go by, and just trying to hold onto the moment. I got off the train at Inage Station and called Ayako. "I'm here." I said. "You can't miss me. I'm the only white person."

1 comment:

Yuko said...

welcome home ethan! (to japan i mean)

when you get caught smuggling "men's pocky" from a conbini store they can pull up your mugshot decorated with rainbows and meow-ears.

how is chiba? please tell ayako san that i will be in japan starting june working at RIKEN!