Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tokyo Turbocharge Part 2 - Goodbye UK


My ride to Heathrow airport on the 18th August was in the back of the 'Ford Fiesta Beige' - Nick's old beaten up banger. We drove across town from Clapham, past the trendy residents sunning themselves brown on the turf of the Common, or chilling with a pint of beer on benches outside the pubs whilst black cabs and routemasters pumped out street grime. The summer's national football anthem 'Vindaloo' was still on the radio, even though we had watched England go out in the second round in a 2 all draw to Argentina, followed by the national ignominy of the French thrashing Brazil 3-0 to win the World Cup.

Whether the check-in scales were broken before I put my bags on them I don't know, but it was just as well they didn't register any weight. A giant suitcase stuffed with clothes and CDs and books and a three-man tent, a 60 litre rucksack and then a 5ft long bag holding my complete snowboarding kit meant that I would have been more than a little over my luggage allowance. The lady at the counter gave me a wink as we joked cheerfully about my good luck and then handed me my business class boarding class, freely supplied by the Japanese Government.

Nick and I went upstairs to the Terminal 3 shops, and weaving between the crowds of all races and colours, ended up sitting in a gruesome pastiche of a pub constructed in the corner of the building overlooking the gates and the planes. A couple of weeks earlier a friend had asked me if I was nervous about leaving and I looked at her with a blank expression on my face. I wasn't at all nervous at the moment she asked me that question. As far I was concerned I was off on a gigantic adventure and there was not a single sinister gremlin whispering sticky doubts into the space between my ears. But that final afternoon after a final morning of final phone calls to my family and to Nicola, my nerves had started to crack like a sheet of overloaded ice, revealing underneath them a black black pool of the utterly unknown and terrifying.

To say I didn't know anything about life in Japan at that point isn't entirely true. I did know how to count from one to five, ichi ni san yon go, and I was aware that I would have to wear slippers a lot, so I'd packed a couple of pairs of flip flops to cover that little culture quirk. At the Programme's Pre-Departure Orientation three weeks earlier I had received the theoretical knowledge that I would greet people by bowing, and without eye contact. And I had received a contract from some place called Yono city in Saitama Prefecture giving me all the fleshy terms, in Japanese. I was able to figure out that Saitama Prefecture was basically northern Tokyo, although all my efforts to locate Yono-city on the map were frustrated. So as I waved goodbye to my oldest friend and boarded the JAL 747, I actually didn't know where in Japan I would be living. More than that though, I didn't know anybody. Literally not a single person.

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