First things first - wooo, I'm here!
It's lovely to be back in Tokyo! I hadn't realised how much I missed it until I got on the train and started seeing places I remembered. Especially when we passed the Shinjuku skyscraper district - I love those buildings!
But anyway, I should start at the beginning. My family and I drove down to London Heathrow airport on Wednesday morning. It took about an hour and a half, despite part of the motorway being closed due to a gas leak. We parked and walked up to Terminal 3, where I heard my name shouted by Rob, one of the other students going to ICU. Katy, the other one of the three of us, was already there, along with another student going to a different University we were flying out with. There was one other too, but we decided not to wait for him before we checked in. There was no queue at the JAL desk, and we all got in with no problems. I'm sure our bags were overweight, but the woman didn't say anything - maybe she took pity on us!
I met my family upstairs and we had lunch. My stomach was churning like crazy, with that bizarre mix of anxiety and excitement. I managed to eat a jacket potato and the hour passed very quickly. It was too quick! Suddenly I was saying goodbye to my family again, with tears in my eyes. We had done it before, and we knew what goodbyes are like. But of course that doesn't make them any easier!
I waved until I had passed into the security check with the other four. I was okay then, because I started focussing on the next section of the journey. I didn't beep at the metal detector, which was surprising! All my stuff was okay, despite being overweight, but of course they don't weigh hand luggage.
We made our way down to Gate 27 and had our boarding passes checked. I realised that I'd meant to ask if there were any aisle seats available, because my long legs are awful in cramped seats. I asked at the gate if there were any aisle seats available, and they said that a party hadn't turned up, and I could have their seats if they didn't arrive in time. I waited for about 15 minutes and the party didn't check in so I moved four rows back, so not too far from the rest of my group, who were spread across two rows, but where I could sit more comfortably. I'm very glad I asked!
The 11 hour 45 minute flight went much quicker than I thought it would. I watched one and a half films, and then tried, largely unsuccessfully, to sleep for the rest of the time. I think I got about 3 hours in the end, but it was very hard to tell because I kept waking up to readjust my position.
I wasn't nearly as worried or stressed as when I first arrived in Japan. I knew where everything was, and that I was with other people, and we were being met by locals. Everything felt much safer and more secure than last time!
We went through the swine flu check and immigration like a breeze. Narita Airport is so quiet and calm, it's the exact opposite of British airports. They took my fingerprints and photo at immigration, just like last time, and checked my visa. I think the inspector was a little perplexed at seeing two visa stamps in my passport, but he didn't ask any questions.
We left the customs check with no problems (you have to fill out two forms on the plane, one for immigration, and one for customs) because we weren't carrying any prohibited or restricted items. Then we met Rob's good friend and a couple of students from ICU who I'd been in contact with. They were all really really nice and helped us all with our heavy baggage. We bought tickets to 東小金井 (Higashi Koganei), which is where the head office of our guesthouse company is. From Narita Airport (outside Tokyo to the east) to the western suburbs where we're living, it took about two hours, and three trains. It was quite hot (around 30C) and humid, especially as we weren't used to it, but not as bad as I remembered it being. Maybe it was because it's the end of August, rather than the beginning, which is when I left last year. But Rob's friend said that Japan's summer this year had been cooler overall than average. That's not a problem with me!
Watching the scenery flash by as we made our way through central Tokyo was amazing. I recognised so many places, and just looking at the train map brought back fond memories of last time. We were all very tired, and everything seemed a bit like a dream, I think particularly for Katy, who has never been to Japan before. But we got to Higashi Koganei station with no problems, thanks to our local guides. We thanked them very much and were then picked up in a brightly coloured van and taken to the office. The office was right by a small wooded area, and there was a deafening roar of cicadas! I'd never heard anything like it. I really hoped I wouldn't be able to hear any from my room. We were talked through the contract and the rules of the guesthouse, and we paid our deposits and first month's rent.
That took just over an hour, and then they drove us to our guesthouse. I was glad we could go straight there even though it was late afternoon, because they had said that if we didn't arrive by 15:30, we might not be able to check in that day, and would have to stay in temporary rooms in the head office. We were shown to our rooms, and we sorted everything out, and then were left to it.
We were all a bit dazed and confused, but we knew we couldn't go to sleep, as it was only 6pm, so we met Rob's friend again in the town near the station, and went for some dinner in an izakaya (Japanese pub). We got back at about 21:30, and I was dead to the world by half past 10, and I slept dead through until 6:30am this morning, when I woken up, either by the bright sunlight (the curtains here are just as transparent as in Sakura House last year) or the gradual heat as the room warmed up.
Today we did some shopping and bought some food while exploring the local area, and I'm feeling quite comfortable here. We made our first group meal this evening, noodles with beef in a tomato sauce. I think that's a really good way to save money, as the meal split between the three of us was only Y380. We'll definitely be doing that a lot!
I'm fully unpacked now, and I'm feeling much more like it's a home now. Everything has its place and I'm getting used to the layout of the house. Tomorrow we're going to try to figure out the best route to ICU. Wish us luck!