We had two short days on the way to Japan, and we make up for it with a 41-hour day on the way back. We did manage to sneak in an art museum before heading to the airport.
It's hard to imagine it's been four weeks since we left Seattle. We were back in the city where we began our trip, but in a different hotel (we got a really good price on the room, too).
After having our breakfast in the room, we repacked everything for flight. It's amazing how the same objects can take less space when you that's your goal. We did get rid of a few unnecessary items since there are only so many small plastic spoons, plastic shopping bags, and disposable chopsticks we could use. We took our things downstairs and left the bags at the hotel after checking out, so we could go out to the Tokyo Art Center.
National Art Center
We went to the National Art Center for two things, A Dali exhibit and the building itself.
This exhibit was a full-scale retrospective of Dali's work, spanning his entire career. It wove events in his personal life with his art, such as how the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused Dali to become interested in atomic physics and how this knowledge worked its way into his pieces. One of the pieces I liked the best was from this era, Maximum Speed of Raphael's Madonna.
His surrealist work was naturally also on display. While The Persistence of Memory wasn't there, there was a Persistence of Memory pin made of gold and diamond which depicts a pocket watch draped over a tree branch.
The exhibit was very popular and was quite crowded when we got in. As the exhibit proceeded, the crowds started to thin out, as if patrons were examining each piece, to begin with, then realized they'd never get through everything at that pace. It was interesting how, knowing there were a lot of people wanted to see things up close, they instinctively formed a line and people slowly moved past items on display.
The building is very interesting. It's got, according to architect Kisho Kurokawa, an entrance lobby atrium with ceilings over 70 feet high, and a façade of undulated glass. Inside, there are inverted cones with food establishments on the top. From a photography aspect, it's sort of like the EMP building but without all the colors; different shapes depending on how you look at it, and interesting interactions with buildings and trees around it.
Our plan was to eat in the Roppongi area near the Art Center. We had one place in mind but had trouble finding it, so decided to go to another replace also in Roppongi Hills, a development project anchored by the 54-story Mori Tower. I ordered the set meal which had yellowfin (both cooked and a bit of sashimi), vegetables, potato salad, miso soup, chawanmushi, and rice. Melody ordered duck soba. Of course, we each ate half then swapped, and both meals were really good. Since it was our last full meal in Japan, it seemed like an appropriate place to have lunch.
Getting to Seattle
Back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We mapped out several options for getting to the airport, but what we ultimately did was do the reverse of what we did on our first day. Upon arriving at Narita, we did a few housekeeping things (return our transit cards, return the WiFI hot spot, exchange our last cash into dollars).
The line for security was quite long, but it moved quickly since it was feeding into several scanners. The screening process was a kind of a mix between normal and TSA Pre✓; shoes stayed on, but laptops, one bag of liquids, and coats went into bins separate from bags.
We weren't claiming any tax exemption, so we bypassed customs (no one is in line there anyway) and got into the immigration line. Literally make sure the passport and boarding pass match, then rubber-stamp the passport. Off to our gate.
Having arrived quite early at the airport, we weren't in a rush. After looking at the screening and immigration lines, we were glad we did. Our gate was the last one down the terminal, so another thing where we weren't worried about the time.
We got onto the plane, were all ready, and…nothing. The crew had been told that they'd be able to pull back from the gate in about a half hour, so we got to wait. It was only a bit longer than that before we were heading to the runway, then we waited in line for almost another half hour before we could take off.
The flight to Japan was about 10 hours, but the flight back was about 8. Still, a long time to be sitting in the seat trying to sleep, but we were able to nap a bit. We sat next to a man from Victoria who was in Japan for a couple weeks on a group tour with his architecture club. Sounds like they went all over and he had a great time.
At Vancouver airport, we followed the crowd towards immigration. Since we were going directly to the US, we didn't have to clear Canadian customs or immigration. Clearing the US immigration was why we had applied for Nexus and Global Entry, so it was time to put that to a test. We each went up to a kiosk, scanned our passports and fingerprints, answered a few questions, then got a printed receipt. Handed that to an official, and he also scanned our boarding passes and checked our passports. All good, he asked what we were taking into the country, one answer, and that was customs, too. Very quick.
We found our connecting gate, but there weren't many food options there. Since we had a long layover, we walked back to the central area (about 10 minutes each way), had lunch, then went back to the gate.
There was another flight leaving out of our gate (small prop planes, so several of them can be boarded out of the same gate) about 10 minutes before our flight, so when they were boarding the Portland flight, we made extra sure that wasn't our flight. Unfortunately, they didn't always say, “To Portland” when announcing boarding zones, but people weren't too confused.
The Portland plane was mostly boarded, but there were two passengers waiting at the podium. For some reason, the gate agent had called for a security agent to do a security check on their bags. He even brought up one of those machines where you swab a surface and test for certain compounds. It was taking them quite a while, and the gate agents were getting antsy about getting our plane boarded. The couple repacked their luggage then rushed down to their plane.
Zones 1 and 2 had gone out to the plane already, so our zone was next. We went down towards the tarmac, and everyone else was just standing there waiting for the Portland plane to taxi away so they could get to the Seattle plane.
Finally, on board, it didn't take us long to taxi and take off for the quick trip to Seattle. Having already cleared immigration and customs, arrival was quick and we headed out to the train. A recent addition of a light rail stop meant that we wouldn't be able to just walk onto a train and wait. One came in a couple minutes, and we decided to transfer downtown so we could take a commuter bus to near home (a bit further walking, but less walking at the transfer point). There was a demonstration downtown, but that didn't impact us too much.
Since we got onto the bus at the first stop, we easily got seats. After a couple stops, however, the bus really started to fill up. Having just left a city where riders forcibly push their way on (and that's the common practice), it was odd to see so much space between people on a “full” bus.
I think it'll take us a bit to adjust to what day it is since we arrived at home about an “hour later” than we arrived at Narita Airport. The Date Line really messes with one's mind.
Expect one more post after this one which covers tidbits of the overall trip, as well as some final thoughts.