American Gaijin, Japan Samurai Adventures, Part 7 – Arriving in Japan
I was boarding the huge Boeing 747 for Japan. I had been on many planes but never a 747, the largest plane in the world in 1980. I was told the flight was 16 hours from Chicago on JAL (Japan Airlines). All the service employees on the plane are Japanese women. They were all quite good looking if I do say and are very polite, doing their very best to provide excellent service. Settling back into the plush leather seat they bring you a glass of Champagne before the plane takes off. My First Class ticket was going to make this a great flight. On take off the big jet seems to lumber down the run way. The engines are screaming at full throttle. Is the jet going to take off? It seems like it cannot get off the ground because it is so large, but suddenly the gigantic monster begins to fly. The nose of the plane lifts up sharply and in a minute the plane is off the ground climbing higher and higher to a range of 40,000 feet. The seat belt sign goes off and everyone is free to move about. I had never flown more than 3 or 4 hours before and this flight was starting to get to me after 10 hours. I tried to sleep but I was excited and could not wait to arrive in the land of the rising sun. Finally after about 18 hours in the air we arrived at Narita airport in Japan. Light as a feather the plane puts down with a prefect landing, the engines roaring as the Captain puts on the reverse thrusters. The Captain announces welcome to Japan.
I was arriving in Japan 127 years after Admiral Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay. It was exciting since this was my first time out of the country except for Canada and Mexico. I was working at the time for a major a company as International Sales Manager. Arriving in Tokyo Japan at Narita Airport late in the evening I was impressed right away by the very efficient Japanese people. Going thru customs was a breeze. In those days Americans were never checked by Japanese customs. They just waived you thru once they stamped your US passport. My first impression was that Tokyo was more modern and a lot cleaner than most big American cities.
Leaving the customs area I went to exchange money at the Bank of Japan counter in the airport so I could pay for my taxi ride to my hotel. At the taxi stand the driver ask me in Japanese where do I want to go and I replied in my best Japanese, “Okura Hoteru, Onegia shimasu.” He replied, “Hai Okura Hoteru.” A taxi driver in Japan will always repeat the destination to be sure there is no misunderstanding. Getting into the taxi I found it was spot less. You could eat off the floor. The taxi drivers take great pride keeping their cars clean. Most are privately owned and this is their sole source of income. If a taxi was stopped the driver was cleaning it while waiting for a fare. In the 1980’s very few Japanese taxi drivers spoke any English, so if you wanted to get around by taxi knowing how to speak Japanese was very important. I was a little surprised and pleased that my weeks studying the Japanese language had paid off. I was able to speak and be understood and I was able to comprehend what they were saying, for the most part if they spoke slow enough.
I was in awe of the modern buildings, their unique designs, and the multi colored lighted signs lite up Tokyo. There were many clean and new private cars on the road but Japan has a wonderful public transportation system made of taxis and subways, so most people take public transportation. Japanese people take great pride in keeping the streets clean and you will never see any person littering.
Comparing Tokyo to the rust belt cities in the United States made me wonder why Japan was ahead of the USA? Why do they have such modern cities? The answer is simple, we rebuilt Japan after World War II because almost every major city was bombed to the ground. We dropped two terrible atomic bombs and many people do not know that Tokyo was also fire bombed to the ground. The loss of life was horrendous. The other major factor that helped rebuild Japan is the pride of the Japanese people to restart their lives and raise new cities.
I was on my way to the Okura Hotel which is directly across the street from the US Embassy. This was the hotel where Ronald Regan once stayed during his only visit to Japan. This Hotel was the most famous in Japan and was one of the best hotels in the world. The cost of $250 per night in 1980 was very high. Many Japanese weddings are held here in the spring time. If you hang around the lobby in April and May you can see the brides and grooms coming to their weddings. Some dress in traditional Japanese formal clothes and some wear western styles with a white wedding gown.
Coming next American Gaijin, Japan Samurai Adventures, Part 8 Takahashi