Total Pageviews

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Transiting Through Tokyo

January 2, 2013

My trip begins pleasantly, mid-morning, in an uncrowded Minneapolis airport.  A cheerful agent wishes me happy new year while checking my three-pounds-overweight suitcase through to Indonesia, where friends are to meet me three calendar days hence. Security is quick and courteous, and I have a comfortable amount of time to reach the newly remodelled G-concourse, resplendent with free, individual i pads at every single seat, bar and restaurant place, before my plane begins to load.

The plane is almost full when my seat-mate arrives, a woman of about my age, wearing a shawl in jewel tone colors so like my own, one might think we had conspired. She is an entrepreneurial spirit, on a trip to buy things for her catalog business, a trip unfortunately prolonged by a flight cancellation necessitating a diversion from the west coast to Minneapolis to join our flight. Nonplussed, she does not waste a minute of our trip, alternately reading on her kindle, watching a movie, conversing or chatting about her many travels, and sleeping.  My in flight video system does not work and I am in need of sleep so, after introductions, I spend the time dozing, walking the aisles, or chatting over what we agree are rather uninspired meals.

The flight from Minneapolis to Singapore involves a change of planes in Narita Airpot, Tokyo.  Availing myself of airline special services, I have requested wheelchair assistance to negotiate limited but potentially tiring transfer time. The stewardess is vague about whether and where a wheelchair attendant will meet me, as I exit the plane. But, right at the door, a diminutive, elderly Japanese gentleman brightens with a smile as he sees me recognize my name on the placard he holds.  He is solicitous to a fault as he guides me onto the diminutive wheelchair, lifting my feet into place next to the carry-on bag which I hug between my knees.

Though hardly an hour passes between my flights, I can observe that Japanese airline and airport personnel are compulsively anxious to be courteous and to please.  They hurry gracefully, bowing and conferring in subdued voices. The terminal lighting and ambience are similarly subdued as befits the middle of the night. My attendant makes polite conversation as he quickly yet calmly negotiates halls, doors and elevators. He  asks whether I have ever visited Japan.  I say no, but that I hope to do so some day, especially because my son-in-law is an American of Japanese descent.

A:  Your son-in-law is Japanese?
Me:  Yes.
A:  How is he?
Me:  Hm??
A: (repeats, clarifies) How is he?  Is he good?     
Me:  Oh yes, he's very good.  We like him.
A: (exclaims) Better than Chinese??

I chuckle.  Perhaps aware that he has exposed a cultural anxiety, the gentleman pauses, then adds an  afterthought, that he has worked in China for seventeen years.  We fall silent as he wheels me to a seat near my gate, saying something I do not catch before bowing and disappearing into the airport crowd.  A long line of laughing, chattering, young people in a veritable fashion show of high style clothing, bags, and shoes, stretches along the corridor toward another gate.  I can't be sure whether they are Japanese or Chinese, but their vivacity challenges the airport's more subdued atmosphere.

After awhile, rested and ready to board my ongoing flight on my own, I get up to join the line already clustering around the gate agent.  But then my attending gentleman suddenly reappears through the crowd, insists on loading me and my carry-on back onto his wheelchair, waves my boarding pass at the gate agent, and wheels me efficiently to the door of the plane where, with a smile and a bow, he wishes me a good trip.  And leaves me smiling at the possibility of returning to experience more of Japan.

No comments:

Post a Comment