Sunday June 4, 2006
Departure from Lambert/St. Louis International Airport, Missouri
Another early morning departure time, this time the plane was scheduled to leave
at 9:55 AM. I was surprised when I checked my baggage, I had not been preselected for
additional searching as I had in 2002. In fact, they were really only concerned that
one of my suitcases was over 50 pounds and they wanted me to rearrange what I had packed
so both were under 50 pounds or they would charge me an additional $50. I didn't want
to mess with repacking in the middle of an airport concourse, so I paid the extra fee and
headed for the gate.
I figured out how to get through the X-Ray search quickly. I got behind someone who
looked like they were likely to be searched, and they were too busy with them to harass
me. My biggest problem was putting my shoes back on and the long walk to the gate.
I flew on Northwest Airlines this time, so the first leg of the trip was to Detroit,
because just about every plane they fly goes through their hub at Detroit. I was seated
next to a quiet older gentleman who was not much for conversation. But I was behind the
engine and in front of the bathroom, so the odor and noise were somewhat overwhelming.
I might have been off the list to be searched at every opportunity, but I was still on
the list to be put in the noisiest and smelliest seat on the plane.
Arrival at Detroit, Michigan
I arrived at Detroit, and for a city with a reputation of looking like a bombed out
war zone, the terminal looked really nice, with a shopping mall and hotel attached.
I had a little over three hours to wait for the next flight to leave, so I looked around
and had lunch.
This being Detroit, they even had a Ford Museum store and a GM store.
I'm not an American car enthusiast, but these were at least entertaining.
I would later find out that this is only the Northwest Airlines terminal and the other
unattached terminals are average to below average. I would also find out why Northwest
could afford to spend so much money on their hub terminal.
Departure from Detroit, Michigan
I loaded on the plane to Nagoya a little before 4 PM, and it was more like a railroad
freight car than a piece of aerospace technology. Compared to the American Airlines plane
I took in 2002, the seats were smaller and much less comfortable, with less leg space, and
no video screen on the back of the seat in front of you. They had overhead screens, but
no in flight movies, just the longitude, latitude, and flight speed. Snacks have almost
totally been eliminated, but in an ingenious money making scheme, they will be more than
happy to sell you a snack box for $12.
The passenger demographic was much different too. This
plane was going to Manilla after Nagoya, and instead of being filled with middle to upper
class older Japanese tourists, returning home from their vacations in the US, there were
significantly more young couples with infant and toddler children, yelling loudly and
running loose everywhere. I would not have been surprised to see someone trying to wedge
a crate of live chickens into the overhead baggage compartment. I thought I was being
loaded onto a 50 year old bus to cross the Andes Mountains in South America. And the
flight crew was lazy to the extreme, delaying the flight and complaining to children's
parents that they would not take off until these parents captured their children who
were running up and down the aisles and strapped them into their seats. As opposed
to the flight crew helping these non-English speaking parents to do this themselves.
I was seated next to what appeared to be a Philippine woman who was studying medical
text books and an older Japanese woman. No one seemed interested in conversation.
But the airline did manage to make sure I was directly behind the engine so that I
couldn't hear anything even if anyone said anything.
The flight was over Canada, Alaska, and Russia, instead of over the ocean. I suppose
I could count on a hard crash and a quick death on impact instead of drowning after
treading water for a day or two. At 32,000 feet at 560 miles per hour watching scrub
grass pass below, you have a lot of time to think. Anyone worried about preserving
the pristine wilderness up around the Arctic Circle should probably get on one of
these flights, because oil pumps and pipelines would be a definite improvement to the
million square miles of nothing that is there now.
Thank goodness for the ipod, but next time, I'm buying some of those noise cancelling
Monday, June 5, 2006
Over the Pacific Ocean, you cross the International Date Line, so this trip taking
some 15 hours in the air, departed on Sunday afternoon and arrived Monday night. But
with the poor service and accommodations on Northwest, it felt more like Wednesday.
Arrival at Nagoya Airport, Japan
This flight was directly into Nagoya, so there was no transfer in Tokyo and no
little flight on a Fokker prop plane. The Nagoya airport has been significantly enlarged
since my last visit, because the World Exposition was held there in 2004. So this is
now a full blown international airport with a lot of direct flights. And it is a pretty
nice looking airport too.
I arrived in Nagoya late, around 7 PM Japanese time (thanks mostly to the air crew's
refusal to help capture and set belt the children running loose on the plane before
taking off from Detroit).
I arrived and went to their huge and newly built customs area. They weren't too
interested in questioning me at the first desk, but after I retrieved my luggage at the
second step and presented it for inspection, they got very interested with looking inside
those two, big, shiny suitcases. I knew I had those DVD movies in the gift suitcase,
and did not like my chances of explaining copyrights for race videos that I shot, and
old Motorweek video episodes containing Isuzu and Lotus road tests, that I had copied,
so I started with my suitcase full of clothing. The officer was significantly less
interested in the contents of the rest of my luggage after sorting through two weeks
worth of shirts, pants, and underwear, and waved me on without opening anything else.
I was greeted at the exit from the Customs area by Mr. Kenji Tsuzuki, Mr. Hiroshi
Oyama, and Mr. Makoto Yamagishi. We were joined a few minutes later by Mr. Imura
Mr. Tsuzuki is the head of the Gemini Front Row Owners Connection Car Club.
I had met Mr. Oyama on my previous trip. He has several Gemini JT191 cars and had a
Lotus Elan M100 that he sold sometime between 2002 and 2006 (I still tease him for
letting go of that car). I had kept in touch with him since 2002 and he has been a
I did not realize it at the time, but I had met Mr. Yamagishi at the Welcome Dinner on
my 2002 trip, but he had not been a central player in the activities on that trip as
I would soon find out he would be on this trip.
Mr. Yoshiyuki owns the Jerald car shop which sells restored Isuzu cars, seems to dabble
in real estate, runs the Team Club Sports car club, and is one of the main organizers
of the Gemini Meeting.
After I made a stop at the currency exchange counter, we walked over to the shopping
mall's food court at the airport. It's going to quickly become apparent that every
public building (office building, tourist attraction, museum, whatever) has a shopping
mall attached to it. The casual onlooker would ask what they make in Japan, since
everything seems to be a shopping mall, and the only thing that gets done is a lot of
I scouted out what looked like a little counter that sold "beef bowl" entrees (famous
working man's meal in Japan, because it is cheap), and ordered some. What I didn't
know is the second quick lesson, every time beef is on the menu in Japan, it is served
with an egg, whether that egg is scrambled and cooked or raw and dipped or poured over
the top, the Japanese can screw up a perfectly good piece of beef with egg every time.
So we sat down at the food court, me with my beef bowl and Calpis brand soda (pronounced
disturbingly close to "cow piss", another one of those Japanese butchering of English for
advertising), and started planning my itinerary. Kenji seemed pretty annoyed that my
Japanese conversation skills were still far behind my writing written grammar skills,
that receive much greater practice while I am in the US, because I email in Japanese
much more than I speak Japanese.
When I arrived in 2002, Mr. Tsuzuki had asked me if I wanted to have a beer or something,
and I was unable to explain that I was declining because I had been awake for several
days straight and didn't feel wonderful after a 13 hour plane ride. The rest of that
trip was alcohol free. I wanted to make sure this time that the same thing didn't
happen. They seemed surprised when I explained that I liked Sake and Chuhai (Shochu
mixed drinks). I was also able to explain that I am not much of a beer drinker, but
I don't think that the phrase "anything that is an acquired taste isn't worth
acquiring" translated very well.
were to go to Hiroshima and visit my friend Yumi on Wednesday and Thursday (June 6 and 7),
and to visit my former language teacher, Hiromi, in Tokyo, on Wednesday and Thursday
(June 14 and 15) of the following week. I expected I would ride with Eiichi from the
car show on Sunday, so I would be in Yokohama on Monday and Tuesday (June 12 and 13).
This left Friday and Saturday (June 9 and 10) in Nagoya and Tuesday (June 6) for a
trip to the shrine on the Isuzu river at Ise.
I had to explain to them exactly why I wanted to go to Ise, because the idea seemed a
little strange to them. I explained that the Ise Shrine was among the oldest and most
significant shrines in Japan, and also that the shrine is on the river that is the
namesake for the Isuzu Motor Company. I wanted to visit the place that is so important
to both Japan and to Isuzu Motors. This they seemed to understand, even explaining that
the Gemini Meeting had been held near the Isuzu River and the shrines many years ago before
moving the Meeting to Toyokawa near Nagoya. So I was a little reassured that they didn't
think I was totally crazy.
But, the group did not seem very confident with the idea of me navigating the train and bus
system from Nagoya to Ise and back, and there was a lot of debate between the four of
them about this. At the end of the discussion, Mr. Yamagishi volunteered to take me sight
seeing in Ise and asked if I wanted to stop at Suzuka Circuit race track on the way back.
It sounded like a good idea to me.
We headed out of the airport to the parking garage. I unloaded several boxes of 2006
car brochures I had collected for Mr. Tsuzuki and let him take them home instead of
lugging them in my suitcase.
Mr. Oyama and Mr. Yamagishi took me to the Dai-Ichi Nichi hotel near the Nagoya Station.
On the way, they stopped at a quick shop and presented me with a bag with a 300 ml bottle
of Gekikan sake and a big can of chuhai. They package chuhai premixed in cans in Japan,
similar to the way that wine coolers are sold in the US. Mr. Yamagishi said this should
stave off the effects of jet lag. He was right.
I arrived at my little room. It looked familiar. Small, with a small and very
plastic bathroom, and a narrow, deep tub. The bathrooms seem to be premanufactured units
that just drop into a pre prepared space in the hotel room. You step up into the bathroom,
and I am guessing that the water from the tub and sink are reclaimed into a reservoir under
the floor and reused for the toilet. The self warming and bidet equipped electronic toilet
is a standard feature.
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