At 5PM on December 23rd, N J and I left our small apartment in Kyoto, and caught the airport shuttle for KIX. Our flight wasn’t until 6AM the next day, but the gods of transportation had refused us any variation of commute that didn’t include an overnight stay in an airport before a transcontinental flight.
The drive from Kyoto to the outer rim of Osaka is a long one, sometimes taking upwards of three hours with the pick-up and drop-off of the other commuters in the area, but it is quiet, and relatively stress free. There are no transfers to make, no time tables to read; you are guaranteed a seat and the comfort of not tugging all of your luggage from one point to the next. It’s also only about $10 more than taking the express train, so quite a good deal.
KIX itself is not that big of an airport, which lends itself to not having a ton of amenities for those stuck in layover, or in our case, an overnight stay, but there are “lounges”, which are essentially glorified manga cafés that allow you some semblance of a personal bubble, and WiFi. We rented our room and dug our heels in for a long night.
While the free drink bar, full-service bathroom, and auditory shelter from the various PA announcements throughout the airport were all fantastic and wonderful, when it was finally time to get to sleep around 11PM, our little booth started feeling much like the cage of a zoo, with our habitat structures situated to maximize the view of the audience. The yawning front door of our abode allowed any and everyone seated around the lounge to look in on the foreigners sleeping on the sofa (and in my case, the stone hard floor), which didn’t lend itself much to those few restful hours of sleep we were counting on. I spent much of my night zipped up in my heaviest winter coat, deciding which angle of my body I wanted to commit to numbness against the 3cm carpet.
At 5AM, we happily checked out and made our way to the gates for our first flight. It took one hour to fly from KIX to Haneda airport, but unfortunately, we arrived so early in the morning that the buses running directly from Haneda to Narita Intl. Airport weren’t running yet, so we had to take local transit––another two hour commute.
Not that there wasn’t time to spare, of course. Even with that extra two hours of transit from Haneda to Narita, we still had an extra eight hours of layover.
There were a couple of really neat things about the day, though, not least of all being that it was Christmas Eve, which you don’t feel the spirit of as much in Japan, the mountains of KitKats everywhere (over 200 flavor varieties have existed here), and the interesting food choices available to us.
Probably the most interesting last-minute Christmas purchase I made that day (which I didn’t get a picture of) was a wooden Japanese trick box. Thankfully the internet always provides, so here is a similar box:
N J’s grandfather is a lifelong carpenter, so I thought he might appreciate the woodwork. I almost bought one for myself, too… maybe next time.
In any case, the time went fairly quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to head to the gate and take our seats on a sleek new 787. I loved this plane. It was so smooth, I fell asleep during takeoff. It probably helped that because it was Christmas Eve, our flight wasn’t sold out, so not only did we get to choose our seats (right next to the emergency exit), we also didn’t have anyone behind us and could recline our seats as far back as we liked. I’m pretty sure we had more leg room than anyone in first class, and that made me feel pretty good!
We arrived in Vancouver at around 11AM, still on Christmas Eve due to time changes, and were met by N J’s mother and her partner, Steve. The first stop of our long overdue vacation was finally underway. Total transit time from our house to N J’s mom’s? 35 hours. Woowee.
Those first days are pretty much a blur to me now. I remember lots of turkey dinners, tons of new faces and never really knowing the day or time, but knowing I was content and not wanting for food. There was also a strange sense that I had always been there, always known the people that I was meeting for the first time, and between the astounding generosity shown to us, and the warm homes with wonderful people filling them, I couldn’t help but get into the spirit of the season.
On New Years Day, N J and I decided to go for a long walk around Deer Lake, an open watershed in Burnaby. Frost covered the ground, but we were lucky to have wide, clear blue skies. British Columbia has some truly outstanding mountain ranges surrounding it; mountains that dwarf every other “mountain” I’ve lived next to.
Nearby, there is a historical village that shows what life was like at the turn of the century. It was really cool seeing how much the world has changed in 100 years, from horse to self-driving car, black-and-white silent movies to 3D IMAX. It was a great way to spend the first day of the year, and helped put a lot into perspective, namely how fast we as people move, as a whole and individually.
We had another week in Canada, but we spent it mostly relaxing and helping N J’s grandfather out, with the exception of seeing a few of her friends for dinner and a movie (the Hobbit actually surprised me), a visit to the campus of Simon Fraser University and Vancouver Public Library so N J could research Gas Town for a new story. Oh, and it finally rained while I was there (after years of being told how the gray the city is and never seeing it while I visiting, I was amused.)
As the post is getting quite long, I’ll end it here, and not regale you with the far less time-consuming journey home, though I’ll mention that thirty minutes of heavy turbulence threatened to traumatize N J for life.
Here’s hoping you all had safe, happy holidays!
If you’d like to see the rest of the photos I took during the vacation, they’re available on my Flickr.