It felt fantastic to be on the road again. Somehow when I have my huge backpack strapped to my back, I just feel so…free. Free to experience new things, to go new places, to meet new people. Not tied down by anyone’s schedule but my own. It’s a very distinct feeling, and on that November 30th, after signing the final severance papers with my former Japanese employer, I felt it for the first time in probably half a year.
I also felt one other feeling that day.
I’d been running around trying to get so much done that before I knew it dinner time had come, and all I’d “eaten” since the evening before was a McFlurry. But I was on my way to Hakata, the Ramen capital of Japan, so I decided to tough it out for just a little bit longer. It was a quest for the perfect meal – a steaming hot bowl of Ichiran Ramen, prepared just the way I like it. I decided that I wouldn’t accept anything else. My own little Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Justin Goes To Ichiran.
Unfortunately this perfect meal made me miss my train to Miyazaki, so I was left with little choice but to wait for an overnight 特急 departing at 11pm. I posted up in Mc D’s and dreamt of a nice, cozy sleeper car. A sleeper car that never came. Instead, I seated myself on a vehicle exactly the same as any daytime express – right down to the regular “NEXT STOP” announcements. I probably slept a total of 2 hours – which was not good, considering I was up the entire previous night moving out of my apartment in Kyoto.
I didn’t arrive at the hotel in Miyazaki until 6:30am, at which point I went straight to the お風呂 for a quick bath, grabbed breakfast, and headed out to the field for some survey work.
One of the first pieces of professional advice Dean had to offer: “If Higashi-san gets fresh with you, just give him a bitch slap.”
Higashi-san is the curator of the museum at Saitobaru. He’s eaten with members of the Imperial Family. “BITCH SLAP” became his new favorite word of the trip.
Man, do I love working with Dean. After spending the last year dealing with the strict rules and bureaucracy of a Japanese company, a guy like that is just a godsend. The day’s work consisted of 4 hours in the sun pulling a radar over some suspected burial chambers while sharing a bit of friendly conversation. For this I received similar pay to what the Japanese company used to give me for a full day locked in an office with no freedom of schedule or fresh air. It was a day’s work with no one looking over my shoulder and yelling at me if I glance at my cellphone, no one counting how many minutes I spend in the bathroom, and no one coming over to call me into a meeting every three minutes. Hmm, improvement of lifestyle? I think so!
(It was also very generous of him to cover my travel expenses. When I went to San Francisco for GDC, all we got was 5,000 yen a day…barely $45…from which we had to pay for everything, right down to the taxi from the airport to the hotel. Thank you again, Dean!)
After work I rested in the Saitobaru museum’s staffroom while we waited for the radargram data to copy, then we headed to a quick bathouse, a Chinese dinner, and my first full night’s sleep in three days.
I woke up the next day feeling really sick. D’oh.
We got to the museum and started data processing, eventually picking up the laptop midway through and relocating to the nicest ryokan / onsen I’ve ever seen. I’m not usually big on the onsen culture, but this place felt like something right out of a samurai movie, was cheap, and just a wonderful feeling – a rotenburo right next to a river – and GREAT dinner.
Driving through Miyazaki really reminded me of how diverse Japan’s cities can feel. Miyazaki, unlike Kyoto, feels like a quiet, slow-paced, pleasant, wide-opened little corner of the country. It’s got big parking lots and big supermarkets that at one point actually reminded me of the US. As did the fact that it would be pretty much impossible to get around without cars – there are no super-developed train and subway networks down in Miyazaki. Even the bullet train only goes to the first major city on Kyushu, which is why it takes nearly 8 hours to get here from Kyoto, even if you ride the fastest trains available.
Then it was back to the hotel to rest.