I was getting a little bit tired of the comforting daily routine of seeing parks and going for coffee at the local Doutor cafe. I was ready for the big, fun stuff, but all that was on hold. I had an idea.
I called Air New Zealand to see if they could change my flight to come back a few days earlier, figuring things would be booked out. But I was surprised to discover that there were seats still available on the next day’s flight. So obviously no mass exodus of fleeing New Zealanders.
On the last full day, we paid a visit to Akihabara, the electronics district. I was excited to visit the gigantic Yodobashi camera store. It seemed to stock every model of every camera made by every major camera manufacturer. For a moment, I wished I was one of those camera nerds with the bag packed full of accessories. But I like my cameras compact and full of functions.
I had a play with the Canon G12, but didn’t buy it because, well, there was nothing really wrong with my old faithful G9. Only the lens of my G9 got munted that very night (I’m going to pretend an earthquake-damanged girder fell on it, rather than it just being old and overused), making me wish I had reconsidered buying a new one.
My final night in Tokyo was fun. I went to a local izakaya bar with a small group of fellow gaijin from the hotel, and a couple of Japanese speakers in the group ordered up lots of delicious foods and more frosty mugs of beer.
We were all sitting around talking about what had brought us to Tokyo, and how the earthquake had affected us. Everyone’s got their own stuff they’ve left in their home country. Some of us wanted to return to it, others wanted to avoid it for as long as possible.
Then there was some nice sake, and I was instructed in the ways of drinking sake like a proper lady. (I’ll get there one day.) It was a really good way to end my time in Tokyo.
Back at the hotel later that night, James and I were up in the ninth-floor lounge and had been doing a bit of a blues jam on a one-string guitar and a glockenspiel played with a dessertspoon, when there was a strong aftershock. The building seemed to not just be swaying, but jolting up a bit. Shit.
So all of the ninth floor fled down the emergency exit, except one dude who said, “C’est la vie”. I was going to write that that’s not a bad attitude to have, but it was actually quite fun scurrying for my life down the back stairs, wondering if it was ok to use the hotel’s indoor slippers outside like that.
I was lucky that both Matt’s parents and James were leaving on the same flight as me (their original return date), so we had a group to travel out to the airport together.
The Narita Express train still wasn’t running (possibly as a power-saving measure), but extra airport buses had been put on and we quickly bought tickets and boarded the appointed bus at the appointed time. There was a little bit of traffic congestion, but we arrived at the airport much sooner than I expected.
Terminal 2 at Narita was busy but efficient. We had a little bit of a wait until the Air New Zealand counter opened, so we had lunch, during which was a big aftershock. It started as a distant rattle, which then moved through the building, shaking everything. I was pretty much too tired to be bothered reacting to it. I was so far inside the terminal that, had stuff started collapsing, I couldn’t have made my way out in time. C’est la vie. That is life.
Finally the Air New Zealand counter opened, and we sneakily were in the business class lane. Not only that, but I got to choose a window seat, and James and I had guest lounge passes via Matt’s parents’ card status. Sweet.
I heard a New Zealand man on the phone proclaiming to someone that “It’s a mass exodus! It’s incredible!” But I’ve heard the passenger numbers weren’t any more out of the ordinary from other busy times like the Golden Week holiday season. There were no crazy queues or long waits – everything was running smoothly.
So we set up in the Qantas Business Lounge (Air New Zealand doesn’t have a lounge at Narita), and spied Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe hanging out there too. He was on the same flight headed back.
It was at the Qantas lounge that I said farewell to something I came to really enjoy about Japan – heated toilet seats.
It sounds really extravagant, but they’re everywhere – Starbucks and McDonald’s both have heated toilet seats. And while it first felt a little odd to my Pakeha bottom, eventually I came to enjoy its warmth and comfort, like a warm hug for your bum. At the Kotoku-in temple in Kamakura, the visitor’s centre toilet rooms were cold from the outside air. The heated toilet seat took away the chill.
Even fancier toilets will have built-in bidet functions, with buttons for the bum, man-front and lady-front. Some of them have little symbols by the buttons, others only have Japanese characters, making it a surprise bottom adventure. If I push this button, what will happen?
So finally it was time to board and I got on the plane, watched a few movies, tried to sleep, and eventually ended up in Auckland.
Mum and Dad were at the airport, as were practically all the other New Zealand passengers’ mums and dads, as well as reporters wanting stories about passengers’ EARTHQUAKE HELL.
Since being back in New Zealand, I’ve talked to people who seem to think that as soon as the earthquake hit, my vacation started sucking and maybe I moved into a refugee camp or something. But it didn’t.
It was not the holiday I had planned (not that I had many plans), but it was still an amazing experience with a lot of enjoyable moments both before and after the earthquake.
I think I’ll go back to Japan some time. While things are still pretty terrible in the north-east areas and aftershocks continue, work is being done and the new normal (to coin a Christchurchian phrase) is taking shape.
I don’t necessarily want to complete the vague plans I had before the earthquake; I want to keep exploring the lovely country that is Japan.