We made it. In one piece, no less. We left the hotel in Virginia at about 8:30am Thursday, flew out of Dulles at 12:30pm Thursday, and landed in Tokyo at about 3:30pm Friday.
The flight was predictably long, partly because I can't sleep in a moving vehicle, partly because we were in coach and it was just as cramped as you'd expect, mostly because it was a thirteen and a half hour flight. There were a number of in-flight movies of assorted quality and languages, so I watched Sherlock Holmes in English and Toy Story in Japanese.
This is the standard Exit sign, the graphic of which I choose to interpret as "Quickly! Run through this doorway!"
The drive from the airport to the base was a couple hours (2-4 hours, depending on traffic, so it's not as convenient as where we were living in VA). We saw the vague outlines of the city from the road and an enormous ferris wheel, but not much more because of the unusually dense rain and fog. Can't win 'em all.
The Mew and I were on our own for the weekend, so we figured out how to use the train system and started exploring. First we went to Shinjuku, an area of Tokyo proper, to look around and see what was there.
Something I didn't expect, that we've found in every major area we've visited, is a park. They're all over the place, and perfectly manicured.
One major theme I'm noticing is that I simply cannot figure out what advertisements are for without being able to read. Take this billboard for example. It shows a beautiful woman with a diamond in her nail polish showing us her middle finger, while a half-naked man in a loincloth and a crazy hat points at the time. I think it's for a TV show, but I haven't the faintest idea what it could be about.
We also randomly came across a fire museum, that was kind of fun. The history of firefighting in Japan, complete with antique equipment and modern PSAs about fire safety and emergency preparedness. The 10th floor has an observation deck, and this was part of the view.
Another major theme, or at least something that is common here that you never see in the states, is sidewalk vending machines. They typically have 15-20 different drinks, in both cans and bottles, and are usually right next to one or two other machines with a different selection. I, for one, love this street feature. Any time you feel thirsty or dehydrated, someplace along that block will be a machine for canned coffee, coffee with milk, soda, tea, and three kinds of juice. I haven't had a single one that hasn't been tasty, either.
Then there was this machine. None of the buttons were labeled, you just put in some money (about $10USD) and get a surprise. We had to try it once (don't judge, you probably would have, too). The pictures on the machine were almost exclusively electronics, but we got a necklace holding some unremarkable rings and a velvet pouch to hold the bling.
Yet another major theme I've been seeing is that everything is aesthetically pleasing, from the artfully trimmed trees in the two-foot yards of houses to the manhole covers in the street.
The fire hydrants here are below ground, usually marked by a bright red pole with a sign, and sometimes accompanied by this:
We spent some time looking for potential neighborhoods in the areas between Tokyo proper and where the Mew will be working. I love the architecture around here - houses are mixed in with apartment buildings, the streets are all crooked and twisty and narrow, and every house is completely unique. Almost every single building has a ton of personality.
One of the places we went to visit, Tama, we discovered by accident is Hello Kitty's Town.
Hello Kitty has commissioned some funky statues.
I'm not sure how to feel about this one. If you describe it aloud, it doesn't sound at all appropriate for a family-oriented area.
A hundred yards away is the full glory of Sanrio Puroland - the Hello Kitty version of Disney. We didn't go in, it was about 5pm, but we'll go back there someday.
So far our favorite place has been Machida, a city slightly closer to Work than Tokyo, but it has a healthy area of busy shopping, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and night life. Great place for people watching. Never saw so many skinny jeans in my life, for both men and women. Mostly men - the women are almost exclusively wearing black leggings (or funky knee socks, which I can get behind) and short denim skirts. Or shapeless cotton dresses that end at mid-thigh, with shin-high boots or colorful high heels.
We've done a lot of point-ordering of food at restaurants and looking foolish by trying to ask directions. Our strategy of only asking what we can manage in Japanese and trying really hard to understand the answers seems to be paying off, half the time they'll give us one or two words in English to get the answer across.
Not being able to read is driving me frickin' nuts. I can't even sound out what most of the printed language around me says (three different writing systems that all look very different and are used together), but I'm concentrating on the few characters I know and picking them out in every sign and advertisement I see (you wouldn't believe how much they advertise in the train - it puts both DC and NYC to shame), plus drilling then into my head when they appear next to the English version. This happens mostly on signs that show which train station you're in.
Outside of train stations and outside of the base, I've noticed that there are things in English, but nothing useful. Like the doughnut shop Mister Donut. The name is in English, but not a single item on the menu is subtitled. Somehow we managed to get one and some coffee (we were trying for tea, but whatever), and we learned by asking someone at the next table that "doughnut" is the same word in both English and Japanese.
Oh, the other cool thing about restaurants - a lot of them have plastic versions of their dishes in a display case outside. Not that I could read or name any of them, but seeing the food ahead of time was pretty nice. We went to a good Italian place yesterday where the advertisement on the beer glass was all in English, but not a single word on the menu was. I managed to get a vegetarian dish, actually by accident - I thought I was pointing at a picture of something with oysters and tofu on pasta, but it turned out to be eggplant and mozzarella, which was even better.
Crooked is still missing and it's been more than a week, but there may have been a sighting the other night, so I don't need to give up hope yet. Fingers crossed, everybody!