Let’s Nagoya – Part One (The Arrival)

I moved to Japan with my girlfriend Ciara. This is the story of our flight and our arrival in Nagoya. Sorry for the lack of photos – later updates will feature pictures of everything from Shinto temples to pachinko parlours; from startled Churchillian cats to overly-earnest karaoke sessions. 

There are a lot of things you don’t want to hear your pilot say when you’re in the air. Things like “It’s probably nothing.” and “Yolo.” and “Hang on what’s that?”. Well, add to this list the sentence “There’s something wrong with the electrics.” because that’s what we heard two hours after take-off on our flight to Tokyo. The atmosphere in the cabin turned sour; unsettled and nervy.  Long seconds passed without elaboration, and the atmosphere degenerated yet further. No one was quite ready to start screaming or terror-crying, but there was the very real feeling that we were all definitely going to die, and that that was the end of it.

Eventually the intercom came on again: “Nothing to worry about, really. The bathroom lights and the in-flight entertainment don’t seem to be working right now.” If the atmosphere was sour before it was now explosive. This was a betrayal. Surely you start by explaining that the only consequence of the electrical fault will be pooing in the dark and missing out on watching Rush four months late. This was a betrayal and we were all furious.

So we didn’t die. And despite what we perhaps would have liked, we didn’t rise up and overthrow the pilot. Instead, we returned to Heathrow and engineers came onboard to poke at wires until they were convinced everything was working. Then, four hours behind schedule but alive and mercifully able to both watch Rush and see ourselves poo, we were off.

Then, at some point during the flight I totally lost my mind. I think it was somewhere around the 11-hour mark, but I can’t be sure. A few factors contributed to this. I couldn’t get to sleep. I was cooped up in a tiny chair for sixteen hours. But if I had to identify one factor above all others it would be the fact that someone in the row in front of me was watching a documentary about elephants on a loop for hours.

That doesn’t sound too bad, but this documentary wasn’t just about elephants – oh, god no. It was called An Apology to Elephants, and it was a documentary about human cruelty to elephants throughout history. As such, 80% of its running time was filled with graphic pictures and video clips of elephants being physically abused (the remaining 20% of the film primarily consisting of elephant experts looking upset). This played, silent but subtitled, on a loop for seven hours – right in the centre of my field of vision. And however much I tried to look away I found myself unable to do so. I hope that the person in that seat had fallen asleep, and wasn’t deliberately engaging in a marathon elephant-suffering session to pass the long hours of the flight. But I’m not sure – we can only speculate on the matter.

Eventually, miraculously, we started our descent, and the in-flight entertainment turned itself off. The apology to elephants was finally complete, and we were above Japan, ready to land.

What came next was a blur of semi-competent activity. We passed immigration and were handed our residence cards. We got our improbably heavy suitcases and made our way to the train station. We bought improbably expensive tickets and made our way first to Tokyo, then to Nagoya by Shinkansen.

Neither of us speak much Japanese, but we managed to get to Nagoya, and then to our hostel near Kanayama without too much trouble. And while we were incredibly nervous, we even managed to ask for help from several people without accidentally insulting them or tripping over our feet or raising the the topic of Shinzo Abe’s apparent historical revisionism of comfort women in the Second World War. It went well, in other words. And, in fact, one thing that living in Japan these past two months has taught me is that while Ciara and I are yet to master Japanese, we’re actually both natural experts at various forms of non-verbal communication – for example: bumbling hand signals, nervous laughter, and oafish nods.

With our fancy communication skills it wasn’t too long before we found the hostel. After that came a fitful night of sleep and a morning of bleary eyes, endless possibilities, and some pretty intense futon-related back pain. Japan – we had arrived. What the hell were we supposed to do next, and what would the next few days hold?

Was our apartment going to be full of rats? Would we ever be able to find Marmite for a reasonable price? Such questions roiled through our heads, as I’m sure they roil through yours. Well, you’ll find these answer to these questions – and much more, including a cat cafe, a ski trip, and, if you’re very lucky, a Colony Beetle – in the next edition of Let’s Nagoya.

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