As I sit at the desk in our Tokyo business hotel room, wearing a yukata and drinking an Asahi purchased from the vending machine on our floor, day one of our month-long vacation in Japan is drawing to a close. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the first week of our stay is devoted to JapanBall, a tour of Japanese baseball games, and the first day went off without a hitch, thanks to the planning of the tour's founder, Bob Bavasi. Bob met Marc, fellow JapanBaller Rick, and me when our plane arrived at Narita airport, simplifying the processes of activating our rail passes, buying tickets for the Keisei Skyliner, and getting us from the train station to the hotel. Even though Marc and I have flown into Narita several times before, having Bob meet us and do everything for us eliminated the stress of travelling into Tokyo, thereby eliminating the potential for a fight between my husband and me.
At the JR office, Sasaki-san administered our rail passes. The rail pass is an invaluable tool for anyone who wants to travel to and around Japan. Vouchers for the rail passes are purchased outside of Japan, in the passenger's home country, and are exchanged for the pass itself once the passenger arrives in Japan. The pass allows the passenger to travel to any city in Japan that is served by Japan Rail without having to buy a ticket, resulting in deep discounts for the traveler. Taking the bullet train via our rail passes will be our primary means of transportation to each city for the baseball tour. We were quite struck by Sasaki-san's robot-like efficiency in exchanging our vouchers, provided by Bob upon our arrival, into the paper card we will carry with us during the week. She rubber stamped several documents about twenty-seven times to officiate the process, making us wonder why the Japanese, who have invented robots just to be robots, haven't invented an easier, more computerized way to turn vouchers into passes without the use of hand writing and two different rubber stamps with two different dates dialed into them.
The Keisei Skyliner, which transported us from Narita Airport to Ueno Station in an hour's time, is a fantastic way of travelling from the airport into Tokyo proper. In the past Marc and I have taken the Airport Limousine, which is also fairly efficient, but if you're staying anywhere easily accessible to Ueno Station, Keisei, a private train, is the way to go. There's less stress in purchasing the tickets - especially if someone else is making the purchase for you - and you don't have to wait in a long line in front of the airport for a bus that will eventually get stuck in traffic. I didn't hear Bob speak one word of Japanese during our brief time with him at Narita, yet there was no confusion or indecision when making these travel arrangements for us. Once at Ueno Station, we were met by Mayumi, Bob's longtime JapanBall assistant, and she procured taxis to the hotel for us. She's done this before, so she knew exactly where to go to catch a taxi (figuring that out would've taken a few minutes on our own), and she told driver in Japanese where to take us.
Resisting the urge to crash on our larger-than-expected hotel bed, Marc and I showered and walked around the neighborhood to wake up. We then met the group at 8pm for a short walk to Cafe Roje, dubbed by Bob and Mayumi as the JapanBall Hall of Fame, where we ate ramen, yaki soba, and fried rice served by Jun, a lookalike of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. While we chatted and became acquainted with one another in the cramped and brightly lit confines of the noodle shop, we fought the urge to lay our heads on the tables and fall asleep. My husband described the evening as "Recess at Zombie School" since most of us were glassy-eyed from being awake and flying for twenty-four hours.
Now, almost two hours later, I sit at the computer, wondering how it's possible I'm still awake, as Marc is lying on the bed asleep, mouth open and breathing deeply, a Tokyo guidebook resting on his chest. Tomorrow looms large with great promise: a brief tour of the city in the morning and our first game of Japanese baseball.