While there may be no such thing as a free lunch, I am here to tell you that should you roll up to the Sakura Lounge at Narita Airport Terminal Two, there is such a thing as a free breakfast, and very welcome it is too. Bacon! Sausages! (well, mini frankfurters, but I ain't going to quibble) Boiled potato! There were all kinds of soups and salads, too, and a gleaming sushi selection, but I reverted to type; I am English after all. If you show me bacon in the morning, I will eat it. Fresh orange juice, coke, mineral water- even Kirin on tap (they had cans of Kirin in the meeting room where I ran the workshop yesterday, too. This is a civilised country).
It's rather cruel to be getting on another plane so soon after an 11 hour flight (although that sped by, to be honest, thanks to the opera channel on the inflight audio- the Gheorghiu/Alagna Trov, the Mackerras Cosi, which I had last heard at Fran and Steve's wedding, and a stupendous Glyndebourne Fidelio which I shall be buying when I get home. Plus some comedy. British Airways still carries That Mitchell and Webb Sound, which is nice, and it's very comforting to hear James read out one's name when one is 36000 feet above Irkutsk. Don't know why he did, though, as there was none of my material in the episode. Stop complaining, Jon. There was a TV sitcom I watched, too, in which Gus showed up. At the start of a journey I was very apprehensive about, it was strangely reassuring to have these little reminders of home crop up. So I recommend that you all encourage your friends to get themselves included in in-flight entertainment).
Stunning traveller's insight number one- cor, isn't the old Soviet Union big? I mean, I knew that, I've seen it on maps, but nothing quite prepares you for the physical reality of entering its airspace a couple of hours into the flight, after looking down to see Sweden and Finland, and then staying above the ex-USSR for the next nine hours, almost until the descent begins into Japan, only ending when one passes briefly over Mongolia from Siberia, before skirting China. I never saw myself as an international traveller; for the likes of me there is a surreal quality to looking at the inflight map screen and finding out that I'm above Ulan Bator.
Yes, after almost exactly 48 hours, it's sayonara Tokyo. I can't presume to give an impression of the place, except perhaps that it was nowhere near as scary and alien as I had neurotically expected. There's no getting round it- I don't like being a foreigner. Not being able to speak the language unnerves me, as does not knowing customs or etiquette (all my online research left me throughly confused, for example, about the ins and outs of bowing. I ended up doing embarrassed semi-nods at pretty much everyone I spoke to, in the manner of a demented yet reticent woodpecker). But everyone really was as friendly and as helpful as they tell you, and I wish I'd got to see more of the place beyond the hotel room and meeting room, both in the same building, in which I spent the bulk of my time. Other highlights- well, the only other lights, actually- were a quick stroll into Roppongi with Warwick, who very kindly gave up a couple of hours to take me to a gaijin bar and a yakatori restaurant (chicken seven ways. All on sticks and that. The wasabi one was nice. Watch out Jay Rayner) and a Quattro Formaggi in 'la Trattoria'. Yes, yes, I know, but before you start throwing things at me I have decided that in my life I am going to eat pizza on every continent, although Antarctica may be a stretch. Anyway, Europe and the US had better look to their laurels, because my Tokyo pizza was good, good eatin'. It's so rare to get just the right amount of gorgonzola, don't you find? In my experience you have to go all the way to Japan.
It's funny, surrounded by so much that is different and exciting, what odd little details stick in the mind. In Japan, you stand on the left on an escalator. I may be more understanding next time my way is blocked on the Tube. Hey up, these banalities will have to wait for now- they're calling my flight. Hong Kong awaits, which I know you'll be looking forward to. If I keep up this level of insight I will be doubtless logging on in a couple of days to tell you how it's sort of British and yet Chinese there, and that the buildings are quite high. Watch this space.
*Quite a funny sign at Immigration, referring to the embarkation forms. But that's the only Engrish you're going to get, because it's cheap, really, isn't it? Lord knows my Japanese is nothing to write home about.