On a clear day ...

I never sleep well the night before a morning airline flight. Especially when it involves at least a 2 hour trip by multiple trains to get to the airport. Couple that with the fact that in all the years I've been coming to and traveling around Japan, this is the first time I have flown domestically by myself. I've only flown domestically in Japan twice ... both time traveling with Shoko to her childhood home of Kagoshima. Last time we did that was 10 years ago. This time, I was on my own. I have to admit, I was more than a bit apprehensive.

Shoko originally suggest I get to Haneda airport 30 minutes before my flight. I didn't say, "Are you crazy?" I did say, "I prefer to get to the airport much earlier than that." So we worked backwards.

What time did I want to get to the airport?

How about 9:30 AM for a 10:45 AM flight.

OK ... then she worked out the best train route with the fewest transfers and shortest walking distance between trains. A 7:33 AM express train from TDK to Oshiage, and an express train from there to Haneda airport would get me there about 9:30.

The first time I woke up, sure that I had overslept, it was 1:34 AM. (Don't you just love digital clocks?) The second time it was 3:13 AM. Then 4:23 AM. Then 5:08 AM. I turned my alarm, set for 5:30 AM, off and got up and got moving. Took a shower. Got my luggage together. Checked email. Shoko, bless her, made me breakfast ... I'm really going to miss her breakfasts when I get home. Back to Belvita oat breakfast bars.

Antsy as I was, she checked and there was a similar train route if I left at 7:18 AM. Since I was all ready to go, I thought I would try that. Of course this is Wednesday, a work day, at I was traveling in the middle of rush hour. Fortunately I was able to get a seat by the second stop, elbowing a rude young woman out of my way. Making the transfer was relatively easy. There on the digital sign was a listing for the Haneda Express leaving at 8:33 AM and an arrow pointing to the track entrance. I don't know why they listed it as an express train. It made every stop between Oshiage and the airport. But I got there at the expected time , nonetheless.

Check in was amazingly easy, totally automated, as was baggage check. I had decided not to deal with pushing a suitcase and carrying a backpack. The baggage check is cool ... you put your bagged on a platform again a wall. You answer the questions on the nice English menu. A baggage tag is printed. When you've put that on your bag and pushed the "Yes" button, a door closes, your bag disappears, and the machine prints a claim tag. No real personal intervention needed except for those of us foreigners who were really confused.

Security was also interesting. I didn't think and bought a drink before I went through security. I fulled expected to have to surrender it at the check point but no. The agent took it from me, ran it through some kind of scanner, handed it back to me and sent me on my way. I even got to keep my shoes on!

Found my gate ... Number 53 ... way down a long corridor to one end of Terminal 2. The boarding process was quite civilized ... my knee brace got me on the plane during the preboarding. (Might as well make it useful it if I have to wear it!) One of the attendants escorted me to my seat, a window on the left side of the plane, and actually helped me put my backpack in the overhead. Wow. I forget that I am in the land where service actually means something.

Have I mentioned that it was an absolutely beautiful clear day? As the plane took off, I was struck with the staggering size and density of Tokyo spread out below us. Grey roofs, expressways, with little spots of green here and there, went on as far as you good see. And then, I looked up and out and there ... there clearly visible, no clouds around it, was Mt. Fuji. And my camera, and my phone ... were in my backpack in the overhead bin. And, of course, the fasten seat belt light was on and seemed to stay on forever. Fortunately, somebody was smiling on me today ... the seat belt light went out ... I leapt up, pulled the back pack down and ...

On the other end of the flight ... it was as if I was in a different world. Where Tokyo was miles and miles of grey buildings and roads, with a scattering of green areas, Shimane was the inverse. Miles and miles of green hills, with a scattering a small cities. And the best part of the trip was pulling up to THE gate at the Hagi-Iwami airport. Yes. The gate. There is one gate at the airport.

It took five minutes to get my luggage and I met the driver, my new best friend, who brought me to Hamada City. He made a short stop at the "view point" overlooking the entire city so I could get out and take pictures. Certainly a different kind of Japan. I'm looking forward to exploring it ...


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