Man Was Meant to Fly!

We just got back from an aerial tour of the Tokyo/Yokohama area in a little Cessna 172, 4-seater plane…and it was incredible!  This was the first time I’ve ever been in a little tiny plane like that, and it sure didn’t disappoint.  Jaime is a member of the Aero Club on base (a club for people with their private pilots license), where she is able to reserve time slots to either fly or be taken on a tour of the area.  We pulled up to the hangar at 4:00, and our pilot/instructor, Leon, had the plane checked out and ready to fly.  I told him that I’d always been interested in getting my private license one day, so he agreed to give me some basic instructions and let me fly the plane a little bit.  As we taxied out onto the runway, my heart was pounding a little bit.  I was doing my best to keep the plane on a straight line by using the foot pedals to steer, but I’m sure if anyone was looking down on the plane from above, it would have resembled a little kid trying to color inside the lines without having any luck.  Anyways, we got to the runway, dialed up the airspeed, waited until it hit 60 knots, slowly pulled back on the steering wheel and the plane easily lifted off the ground and into the air.  It seemed so simple, yet Leon was doing most of the work so I think I’m a little overconfident in my skills right now.  As we gained altitude and gradually banked left, back towards Tokyo, the mountains surrounding the area came into view through a slight haze.  Apparently, on clear days Mt. Fugi is visible in the distance, but we weren’t able to make it out.

Tokyo Tower

Once we leveled off around an altitude of 3,000 feet, Leon turned the controls over to me and let me fly for about 15-20 minutes.  I was banking left and right, nosing up and down and generally having a blast.  The sun was slowly sinking behind us, casting a beautiful golden glow over everything we saw.  We soared down to the coast, then turned north towards Yokohama.  Leon took control and descended to an altitude of about 1,500 feet, giving us an incredible view of the coast, neighborhoods, parks and skyscrapers below.  We flew over Yokohama and its GIANT ferris wheel and then cruised around the two Tokyo Towers.  Leon pointed on the Imperial Palace, Roppongi and Shinjuku districts.  We’d just gone into Tokyo last night, so it was incredible to see the city from the air as well.  After the short tour of Tokyo, Leon headed straight into the setting sun and back to the Yokota Air Base at Fussa.  It was such an amazing opportunity, and I’m so grateful to Jaime for setting it up for us.  Flying is such an experience.  I think the old Greek inventor Daedalus had the right idea by creating wings made out of wax and feathers.  If only his son hadn’t been so careless as to fly to close to the sun, melting his wax and eventually leading to his demise, the idea of a human with wings might be a reality today!  Most of all, I now know that I MUST get my pilot license someday soon!  It’s only a matter of time.

Off the coast by Tokyo

Yokohama...check out the huge ferris wheel

Tokyo

Our trusty little Cessna

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Izu Hanto

Now that it has been a few days since this past weekend came and went, I feel like I have a more positive perspective about how those three days went.  Myself, Jaime and a massive, rowdy group of Air Force personnel drove about 5 hours south of Tokyo to the Izu Hanto beach at the coastal town of Shimoda.  What should have been a great drive ended up feeling like torture at times because I’d woken up Saturday morning feeling incredibly sick.  My stomach was in knots, my head was throbbing at I was having a really tough time doing anything active.  I’m not sure what was wrong with me, but it seems like it was a mixture of dehydration, allergies, food poisoning and jet lag all at once.  Whatever it was, it sure made the weekend a little rough.  The ride down consisted of a lot of suffocating traffic and short stops at stop lights- a recipe for disaster when you already feel like crap.

When we mercifully pulled into the Prince Shimoda Hotel, I was down for the count.  I took about a four-hour nap, got up and had a little bit of food at a noodle shop, and then passed back out for another ten hours.  I woke up the next day without feeling much better, but I was determined to do what I could to explore around the area a little bit.  I walked along the beach for a while and came across I beautiful shrine built up above it, yet my energy level was quickly fading.  Plus, the weather was cloudy, windy and a little chilly, so my motivation to do much of anything was non-existent.  I ended up taking another four-hour nap that afternoon to try to recover.  After waking up, I went back to the noodle place for a late lunch.  That place pretty much saved me, as most of the food around wasn’t really agreeing with me.  Later that night, I was feeling a touch better and headed into town with a group of people to get some dinner.  Jaime had headed back to Tokyo that morning to pick up her college roommate, Holly, who is staying here with us this week.  They decided to come back down to Shimoda that night, and met up with the rest of us in town.

After a basic meal of rice and bread at an Indian restaurant, I was still feeling okay and went out with everyone to a karaoke club.  I had a great time, yet I was the only one not drinking so I’m not sure I had as much fun as everyone else!  After a couple of hours of Britney Spears, Bon Jovi, Madonna and NSYNC renditions, everyone else headed out to another bar and I had to call it a night.  Kind of frustrating to miss out, but at least I wasn’t curled up in the fetal position on my bed like I had been for most of the weekend!

The next morning dawned with promise, as the sun was out and the wind was calm.  Before heading back home, we all walked along the beach for a while and enjoyed the serene nature of the water.  As I was sitting there in the sand, I realized that there’s probably no better place to get healed up than by the ocean.  The awesome power of the water and waves seems to give energy to all that come in contact with it.  As each wave crashes and the tide pulls it back out, the sandy canvas is cleared and ready for the next set of bare feet to walk across it.  Following the ocean’s example, I tried to let me sickness wash away as well.  Unfortunately, not much was working.  The ride back home was gorgeous, as the first 2 1/2 hours hugged the coast of the peninsula below Tokyo.  I took in as much as I could while trying to prevent the dreaded evil of car-sickness for overtaking me.  As we passed through coastal cities softly built up the mountain sides, it was hard not to picture yourself living in a little house or apartment close to the beach and spending your life living as an unemployed surfer/beach bum.

When the ride finally ended and I made it back to Jaime’s, I was both relieved that the trip was over and a little dismayed that I hadn’t been 100% to enjoy it.  It’s Wednesday now, and I still don’t feel amazing.  I think all of the flowers that are blooming around here are taking their toll on my sinuses and creating terrible headaches for me every morning.  In turn, with my head spinning around, my stomach has been a little queasy as well.  I seem to be getting a little better though, so hopefully soon I’ll be back to normal again!

Our hotel

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Okutamako (Lake Okutama)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in all my travels up to this point, it’s that I generally don’t pay enough attention to things like bus schedules or train departures and end up having an interesting time because of that.  Today was no different!  I decided to head a little north of Fussa, into the forested mountains of the Okutama region.  My main goal was to get to Lake Okutama, but I was pretty much just along for the adventure.  Pulling out of the train station here in Fussa, I couldn’t help but wonder where everyone else on the train was going.  In the few days I’ve been in Japan, I’ve had a great time just sitting down and watching everyone go about their daily business.  The time spent in observation has been fascinating.  While Japan is overwhelmingly made up of one ethnicity, the people do a great job of distinguishing themselves from each other.  Be it crazy, colorful hairstyles, flashy shoes or personalized fashion statements, it’s pretty difficult to describe a general Japanese “style.”  Even the school kids, who are all required to wear the same uniforms, personalize their outfits.  Usually, that consists of the girls wearing their skirts scandalously short.  Regardless, the Japanese seem to have a strong sense of individualism, and that’s what makes people watching so entertaining!  On the train there were groups of businessmen, hikers, school kids, mothers and their children, housewives with groceries, couples young and old and everyone else in between.  What’s more, looking down through the train cars, I’m usually the only non-Japanese person in sight!

On the way out to Okutama, the scenery outside the train windows gradually changed from a more urban, city vibe to one with a rural, village feel.  Once outside of the larger cities, the train began to wind it’s way through the valley carved by the Tamagawa River.  From the glimpses I caught of the river on the valley floor, I could see giant boulders surrounded by teeming rapids and cascading waterfalls.  The mountains were blanketed in ever-changing hues of green, intensified by the occasional breaks in the cloud cover from which sunlight swept over the canopy.  From darker evergreens to bright palm trees, the changing colors of the forest reflected a vibrant ecosystem abundant with life.  The train brought me to the town of Okutama, where I caught the local bus out to Lake Okutama.  The lake was created by a dam of the Okutama River however many years ago, but upon first sight, it seems to be exactly where it was always meant to be.  The gorgeous, turquoise water was full of orange and white coy fish while hungry birds circled overhead.  I was completely caught up in the beauty of the place and missed the main bus stop for the lake (that, coupled with the fact that I don’t really understand a word of Japanese and didn’t realize it was my stop!).  Once it dawned on me that I was moving farther away from my destination, I pushed the button to be let off at the next stop and hoped it wasn’t too far away.  Turns out, the next stop was on some road corner in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Not wanting to look like I didn’t know where I was going (which I’m now sure people could already tell because I was getting off in the most random place), I disembarked and continued on my journey by foot.  Strangely enough, right as I stepped off the bus, there was a little old man sitting at the bus stop staring at me.  All of sudden, he burst out laughing.  Now, I’m not talking a little chuckle- this was side-splitting laughter.  I wasn’t sure if he was happy to have some company or was shocked that I was getting off at that point, but I didn’t really stick around to find out.  I found a little path leading up the hill on the opposite side of the road, and decided to take it to see where it would lead me.  At the top of the path, it opened up to a stunning vantage point of the lake.  At the far end of the water, the sun was trying to peek out from behind the clouds to shimmer on the calm waters.  A patch of vividly colorful wildflowers covered the little outlook I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon.  After reflecting upon this accidental but wonderful discovery for a few moments, I decided I’d best make my way back to a bus stop to catch a ride back into town.  I wasn’t too confident in anyone pulling over to pick me up at the spot I was dropped off at, so I laced up my kicks and set out for the main bus stop on the lake.  It was a touch further than I estimated (more like a half hour more to be exact), but the rain mercifully held off until I made it to cover.  Unfortunately, since I had gotten off the bus in a different place, I hadn’t checked the schedules to see when it would return.  Turns out, I’d just missed it and the next one wasn’t arriving for 2 hours (lunch break I presume).  So, I walked around the little lakeside park, tried to befriend a few Japanese tourists and tried to absorb some of the lake’s tranquility.  When the bus finally came, I actually felt like I could use more time to just relax.  All in all, it was a great little excursion.  The first of MANY to come!

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Getting Around

Seiganin Temple

Today was a great day!  Jaime got me up early to show me around her neighborhood a little bit before heading to work.  However, I think that was just her excuse to get me up so I could make her a quick breakfast of fried eggs before she left.  I spent a small part of the morning after that watching some video tutorials online about how to use Jaime’s nice Canon Rebel XSI camera.  It’s just a little bit fancier than the point-and-shoot Canon I have (okay, a lot fancier), so it took some time to get all the features down.  Plus, she has a brand spankin’ new 75-300 mm zoom lens for me to play around with.  Anxious to try out my newly acquired photography skills, I embarked upon a walking tour of the area around Jaime’s place.  I went back to the neighborhood Buddhist shrine she’d taken me to earlier and had a great time experimenting with the camera.   While I was looking around the buildings, pond and gardens, I met a lady who must have been a caretaker of some sort for the shrine.  She was inside one of the main buildings with her son, and she very kindly invited me inside to look around.  While the inside was very nice, I was much more interested in trying to snap a few photos of the lady playing around with her baby boy.  

After leaving the shrine, I walked down by the Tama River that runs close behind Jaime’s house.  There’s a neatly paved bike path that stretches out along the river, and many people were out walking, jogging or biking and enjoying the beautiful weather.  I met up with Jaime for lunch at the Grand Taj Mahal Indian restaurant, and a few of her friends showed up to join us.  The food was excellent and the company entertaining.  I have a feeling I’m really going to miss the great Indian food once I get back to Moscow!

With what seemed like a feast of curry and naan bread filling our stomachs, we left lunch and headed to the outdoor recreation center on the base.  Jaime made by day by renting a nice mountain bike for me to use the whole time I’m here, so I spent the rest of the day testing it out and exploring more of Fussa.  I had an incredible time biking/walking around the city while looking for the perfect photo opportunities.  I’m not sure what my plans are for tomorrow, but a trip into Tokyo to try to find a sumo wrestling match could be in store!

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Konnichiwa!

Hey everyone!  After 12 1/2 hours of planes and 2 1/2 hours on trains, I made it to my cousin Jaime’s place here in Fussa.  The flight from Seattle into Tokyo was long and pretty uneventful.  Upon arrival at Narita Airport, I had to go through customs and grab my bag, which also went pretty smoothly.  I made it out the exit hoping to see Jaime waiting, but she’s been working some crazy hours and wasn’t able to make it down to meet me.  I was kind of expecting that for some reason, so I wasn’t too concerned when I didn’t see her.  With how “easy” the trip had been to that point, I wasn’t worried about navigating the rail system to her place.  I found the train ticket counter and noticed that they weren’t accepting credit cards.  Luckily, I had about $40 in cash with me, so I went over to the money exchange place and got it turned into about 3400 yen.  I walked up to the super cute girl at the train ticket place with my cash and the name of the station I was trying to get to.  I was sure I had everything I needed, and was completely confident that the girl was going to be impressed with me.  Well, she printed my tickets and gave me the price, which was about 100 yen more than what I actually had.  So there I was, standing in line with a bunch of people waiting behind me and lacking the necessary funds to pay.  Embarrassed, my little smirk quickly disappeared and I looked at the ground in order to avoid the “you idiot” expression I’m sure the girl had, stammered through an apology and hustled over to an ATM to pull out more money.  Needless to say, I don’t think I was successful in impressing her!  Story of my life right there!

Downtown Fussa

After 2 1/2 hours of contemplating how much of a goober I can be at times and  2 train changes, I made it to the Fussa station.  Luckily, Jaime had just gotten there, too, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to call her or find her house on my own.  Without wasting any time, we got in her car and drove (on the left side of the road, that is) to a restaurant for my first experience with conveyor belt sushi.  Now, this is only the second time I’ve ever had sushi.  The first time was a little over a year ago while I was in Washington, D.C. visiting my other cousin Jay, Jaime’s brother, and his wife Jackie.  It has been a Crossler family effort to introduce my palette to Asian cuisine to say the least!  While I think I’m still acquiring the taste for sushi, the food we ate last night was delicious.  After 9 plates of sushi ranging from scallops to fatty tuna, I was stuffed!  We made it back to Jaime’s place and I got the tour of her traditional Japanese, paper-wall styled house.  It’s a very cool place, however it wasn’t built with guys like me in mind.  Every room entrance is about 2 inches too short for me, so it’ll take some getting used to in order to remember to duck every time…especially at night!  After catching up a bit with Jaime, I was finally willing to let my jet lag win the battle I had been fighting with it for the last few hours.  I fell asleep around midnight or so, which is about 6 am back in Idaho.  Definitely a long day!

Today I’ve pretty much been relaxing around the house and trying to get rested for the next month of adventure.  Plus, it’s been raining since I flew in, so that makes for an easy excuse to stay in.  Aside from grabbing some lunch at CoCo’s Curry restaurant, I’ve basically just been reading up on Japan and some of the things I want to explore and watching some movies.  Who knew I’d have to come to Japan to see the Twilight movies?

Oh yeah, something else pretty entertaining about Jaime’s house: the toilet seat is heated.  Normally, that wouldn’t really seem like a big deal, but after sitting on my butt all day yesterday it has been a welcome relief!  Couple that with the huge amount of sushi last night and some spicy Indian curry today, and, well, let’s just say that I’ve really appreciated not having a cold seat!

That’s all for now!  I’ll do my best to keep everyone posted on my adventures here!

Jaime's place...my home for the next month!

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