I can say I’ve been to Japan literally, but I’ve never been outside the walls of its hi-tech airport.
We had a 3 hour stop over at Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT) when we went for a vacation in sunny California. When you have 3 hours of precious time to waste in a surreal wonderland with rich culture and interesting people, you do not just wait at the boarding area with your decaf coffee in one hand and your smartphone on the other. Come on, you have been holding that phone your whole life, why not hide it for a while and not waste a free 3-hour cultural experience.
I for one consider stop overs as a free tour, especially when these are on those places I’ve never been to.
It was a rainy morning and though the airport does not have a balcony where you can breathe in actual Japanese air, I can tell that it is chilly outside. i can feel the warm air being spewed out from the heaters on the floor just beneath the airport’s floor to ceiling glass walls.
You know how anime-ish (sort of) Japanese uniforms are. We were directed by airport personnel wearing white gloves and red coat like uniform with pilot hats who were trying to speak to you in Japanese. All I can say in reply was “Harigato Gozaimasta" (Thank you), and I don’t even know if I was grammatically correct. I was giddy and excited when I first saw them because this confirmed that I was already in Japan. This experience alone is cultural for me and is surreal.
First stop after the security check were the Toilets. Very clean, and well maintained. I didn’t know that the airport took ‘hi-tech’ seriously – their toilets have a control panel to which you press in your command. You can flip the seat open and turn on the bidet with a touch of a button. I did number 2 (yes, I did it) and felt the toilet seat surprisingly warm. Although instructions were in Japanese, curiosity hit me and I could not help myself but to check out what all the buttons were for. I was even splashed wet when I pressed the bidet button while standing up. LOL
We looked for the smoking area right after that and found that these enclosed rooms are ubiquitous in this airport. Since we weren’t allowed to bring in our cigarette lighters to the plane, we borrowed lighters from neatly dressed Japanese travelers trying to talk to someone from their smartphones every time we had to light up.
We all already know the luxury boutiques one might expect when in a Japanese int’l airport. What excited me most were the stores selling Japanese food and souvenirs. Although prices are expensive (I don’t remember exact prices but I recall looking at a magnet souvenir that cost like USD $15). I once read that Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world. You sure will feel it the moment you step inside their stores.
We went inside a bookstore to look at what they had to offer. We were greeted by Japanese texts of all styles and sizes. The magazines on display immediately caught my attention. Japanese girls with cute crooked teeth graced the front pages. I think there is some hanky panky going on inside of those magazines, if you know what I mean. Their magazines are not sealed and thus are free for private reading. You can see a bit more of their ‘sex culture’ inside – from anime sex stories to graphic visuals with blurred private parts to sex hotline numbers. I leave the rest to your imagination. Wink! Wink! With prices ranging about USD $3 each, I got some for my boys back home.
Hunger strikes and even if that ramen noodle house excited me for a second there, I still find it a lot more expensive than what I’d usually pay for. I actually found coupons scattered on the floor near a McDonald’s stall, and since McDonald’s menu vary by country and I have discount coupons for an Ebi Burger (I love prawns) and an orange juice, I decided to have a uniquely Japanese meal there. We went to queue in the bustling line – everyone lining up at the counter seemed to be hungry. While at it, I couldn’t resist but to take photos of the busy Japanese crew. We took our order and had a tasty and fulfilling meal at a nearby bench. I swear the prawns were jam-packed in that Ebi Burger I had.
To cap my Japan experience off were free spirits from a beautiful Rémy Martin lady. We chatted in Japglish (Japanese for her and English for me). LOL! Though we spoke different languages, I felt the connection. Again, all I ever said in Japanese was the thank you word. Three drinks and I felt like a rich man living the luxury of life in the vibrant and culturally rich, and take note, EXPENSIVE city of Japan. The lovely Japanese lady chatting with me while drinking Rémy Martin was an added BONUS!!!
One last cigarette and we were heading to the boarding area. It’s gonna be another 13 hour flight, you know. We lit up our cigarettes and about two puffs later, we heard our names being called for final boarding in a cute Japanese accent. I didn’t even notice that 3 hours had already passed. I recall us being stubborn at that time, as we still managed to puff some more smokes (a word of caution: doing this may cause you being left by the plane and your luggage being lost) before literally scrambling through the cozily carpeted airport hallways.
My sister and I arrived at the boarding gates and were surprised that we were the only ones left to be boarded. It felt more like a first class boarding area to me because the staff’s focus were on us to ensure the plane leaves on time. Talk abut making a grand entrance. LOL!
Stopovers usually mean jet lag or hassle or stress or missing luggage or headache to some, but for me, it means new experiences and adventures. You could even meet a new friend while you’re at it. Look around. Explore. Let your curiosity take over.
Next time you fly, let me suggest you pick a flight with a stopover. Not only is it cheaper, it does get you to your destination and it also gets you your dream side trip.
Next stop: San Francisco.