What I Did On My Holidays


Chapter 6

Ueno to Narita Airport

10/11/99
Day 4

As it turns out, that should really be:
Ueno - Tokyo - Ueno - Tokyo - Narita, but more of that later.

The day started well. Breakfast was good, even if it did include soy sauce on lettuce. Japanese morning TV looks very familiar, even if the language is different. Despite this, the ads still made sense in that we knew what they were selling. That marketing logic behind selling an English brand of Ceylon tea with an American accented voice-over in Japan escapes me, and I've never before seen someone try to sell a car with a hand puppet. (The context is that immortal tale: Boy-being upsets girl-being who gets out of car. Boy-being uses hand puppet to convince girl-being to get back in car and hug him. Car fails to explode for no adequately explained reason. Perhaps understanding Japanese, or at least understanding the Japanese, would have helped here.)

Back to our journey, which coincidentally also includes a failure for vehicles to explode for no adequately explained reason. So we took the scenic route to the station, past the zoo and round a pond. Ueno does have sights worth seeing when you aren't wandering lost looking for your evenings accommodation. At this pond, or rather lake complete with shrine in the middle, there were some little ducks that I, using just about all of my ornithological knowledge, referred to as fuzzy headed ducks. Later in our circum-ambulation of the lake, a sign informed us that these guys were known to the experts as tufted ducks. These bird people are so staid.

We arrive at Ueno station, catch a train to Tokyo station, go to Information to find how to get to Narita airport, and get the tickets we need. So far so good. We need to catch the 13:07 from platform 3 or the 14:07 from platform 4. It takes about ninety minutes to get to Narita, we check in, go through immigration, catch a plane at 17:20. That's the plan.

We have time to kill, and heavy packs so we figure somewhere to sit for lunch would be good. The noodle bars are tiny, have a queue out the front and, for tourists with large packs, look like a source of negative calories. ie we would expend more energy getting the food that we would gain from eating it. So we wandered around the bits of Tokyo very close to the station and decided to catch the 13:07. We could eat at Narita.

We go to platform 3, wait for the 13:07 and get on. It's heading for Omiya. Out of idle curiosity, I check where Omiya is on the map in the Lonely Planet Guide. Ah, nowhere near Narita. We're on the wrong train, Grommit! So we ask a nearby Japanese person (fortunately, Japan has many of these) the profound question "Narita?" They look puzzled, and indicate that we need to change trains at Ueno. We look at the station name that the train is pulling into, and it's Ueno. We jump off.

Now we knew we had to go to Tokyo to get to Narita from Ueno, so we were confused. We head back to Tokyo and the Information desk. We are thinking it is a good thing we didn't wait until 14:07 to get on the wrong train. Let's face it, we didn't want to miss our flight. After getting lost in the wilds of Ueno last night and getting on the wrong train just now, we really wanted to go somewhere where the natives spoke our language. Or at least American.

The Information desk doesn't seem to be such a great source of English-speaking support now. They repeatedly re-assure us that platform 4 at 14:07 is what we want. They offer no explanation as to why the 13:07 was heading the wrong way. We are completely unconvinced, but decide to go to platform 4 and hope.

Platform 4 isn't offering much in the way of hope. It is offering us another trip to Ueno. Ueno was nice, but I'm really keen to reach somewhere where English is more common.

Standing on platform 4 in the midst of a crowd of commuters, looking at maps, looking at signs, looking worried verging on frantic. There's a friendly looking Japanese guy smiling at us and a conversation follows:

Linda: Excuse me, do you speak English?
Guy (no longer smiling): Nein, Ich spreche nur Deutsch.
Linda: (gasp) Fantastisch. Ich spreche auch Deutsch!
Andrew thinks: I don't know what he said, but I do recognize German. See, it sounds just like what Linda is saying.

Once again, I'm surrounded by people speaking a foreign language but at least this time one of the speakers is Linda. English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but it aint in Japan (or in my writings according to some).

So this Japanese guy speaks German like a native (to Germany that is). He knows how to get to Narita and is happy to miss his train to show us where to go. He seemed happy just to have some-one to speak German with, because I suspect he is the only person in the country who speaks it. So he inducts us into the secret of Tokyo Station. Down a couple of elevators and off to the left is... wait for it... The other platform 4!  Sneaky, huh? We thank this guy a lot.

We have found platform 4, the legendary lost platform 4. There is a sign saying that a train bound for Narita will depart at 14:07. There are even non-Japanese looking people with luggage here. We are in the right place. We sit. We relax. Time passes.

14:06. We are waiting for the train. An express has come and gone, a train has pulled up behind us on platform 3. We are waiting. In a fit of paranoia, Linda gets up and asks some-one on that train if it is heading for Narita. It is. It's the train we want, just on platform 3 not platform 4. Argh. So we jump on just before the doors close.

The rest is quite dull in comparison. The train escapes the city (after an hour or so) and I get to see the stretch between Chiba and Narita in daylight. Looked better that way.

Got to the airport, checked our bags in, got some food and drink, got through immigration, got to the departure lounge, killed time buying postcards and doing the E.T. thing, got on the plane. Simple really.


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