Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Long Journey

Earlier this week I travelled from Seattle, USA to Ishigaki, Japan in order to get ready for this year’s Ishigaki World Cup.  Seattle and Ishigaki are not terribly close to one another. In fact, Ishigaki is not even particularly close to mainland Japan. It is much closer to Taiwan.

My itinerary had me leave Seattle at 1:30pm on a Monday. The non-stop flight got me to Tokyo at 3:30pm on Tuesday, thanks to the International Date Line. I had a two-hour layover at narita before continuing on to Naha airport on Okinawa. Then I had to stay the night in Okinawa before continuing on to Ishigaki in the morning.

Here is a really big airplane with Mt Rainier in the background. This proves that I was still in Seattle, more or less, when this picture was taken:


Once I arrived in Tokyo, there was a huge crowd of teenage Japanese girls that were very excited to see me. They were all waiting for me when I got through customs. Some of them even had homemade signs welcoming me to Japan.

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If you are able to read any of their signs in these pictures … “Bieber” is Japanese for “Tremonte.”

I ran into Barrett and Manny Huerta at Narita. We were all on the same flight to Okinawa. It was a little bit challenging to get to our hotels because none of us speak enough Japanese and none of the cab drivers spoke enough English. But we were able to get one of the Tourist Info girls to translate a bit, and we were all on our way.

Once we got into the right neighborhood, my cabbie called the hotel for exact directions. Of course, we were a block away from the hotel when he called! Apparently the Best Western Naha Inn just changed its name a few months ago, and they didn’t tell anybody who works at the airport.

I got inside the hotel and was greeted with this sign and an elevator:

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I used my amazing powers of deduction to figure out that I was already on the second floor, at street level, and that check-in was on the third floor. 

The room was quite nice, albeit small. The one English-speaking girl who worked there explained that you have to put your keycard into this slot just inside the door in order for the room’s power/lights/AC to function.

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The room was also equipped with a pants press, in case I wanted to press my pants:


Down at the end of the hallway, I saw my first of *many* Japanese vending machines that are stocked with cold canned coffee. Apparently Santory Boss Coffee has a stranglehold on this market.

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In the elevator, I learned that the hotel also had a beer vending machine up on the eighth floor:


I took a short walk around the neighborhood to see if I could find some dinner, but not much seemed to be open. I did find an outdoor noodle stand but I wasn’t feeling ambitious enough to try and figure out a reasonable dinner without knowing any Japanese. My camera has a “night” setting that worked pretty well:

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The next morning, I took the subway to Naha airport. It cost 260 yen, versus 1700 for a cab the night before!

At the airport, I was charged 2000 yen to check my bike box. This seemed a bit lame since I was still technically on the same itinerary … but I had somehow avoided getting charged the $200 in Seattle so I didn’t complain too much. I had read online that ANA doesn’t charge for bicycles, but if you really want to argue your case then you should probably learn Japanese … otherwise your right (and ability) to complain is severely limited.

Once I got past the check-in counter, I saw that I was in the middle of another press event. I thought that maybe Justin Bieber was coming to Okinawa, too … but this crowd was a bit different.  I never did figure out what this was all about:

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Flying in to Ishigaki reminded me a bit of my Nevis trip in 2008. In fact, a lot of this trip reminded me of Nevis – small island destination, many connecting flights, an overnight layover … here are some pictures of other islands that we flew over:

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As I was walking into the terminal, I was psyched to see a welcome banner for the World Cup athletes. Welcome to the big time, kiddo!

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At baggage claim I was greeted by Phil from England, a race volunteer who was picking up athletes at the airport. He even had a sign with my name on it! Although it was pretty obvious that he was there for me, since we were the only two non-Japanese people at the airport.

So now I’m in Ishigaki, trying to lay low and to prepare myself for my FIRST WORLD CUP!

These posters are in every other shop window… no chance to forget why you are here!

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  1. Wow! Have a great race!


  2. Great blog, Chris. Almost feel like we are there with you. Will be thinking about you around midnight Saturday here in Seattle!!