March 15, 2011
What had been a two week trip was now six days. My flight out of Narita wasn’t until late afternoon but the hostel staff warned me that getting to the airport might be problematic. Both express trains were out of commission but the slow train I took originally was still operating. One of the staff members even called the rail company to make sure.
So I gathered my things and left early morning. I was sad, of course, both for myself and Japan. Tokyo, after the quake, had seemed almost hopeful. The city was fine but the days after saw cracks form in its defense. Stores were having trouble stocking shelves, restaurants couldn’t open because staff couldn’t get into the city—major rail lines had been shut down due to track damage or power outages. I didn’t see much of this myself and I rolled my eyes at the news coverage back home but Tokyo slowly succumbed to the disaster that began hundreds of miles north, in Sendai.
I boarded the train, at least this time knowing which station to change at. We reached Aoto, twenty minutes outside Tokyo, where I was supposed to change trains. Except there was no train to board. In the confusion, the railway company had cancelled onward trains from Aoto to Narita Airport but that news hadn’t gotten out—most people were only concerned about the express trains. There was no train service to Narita at all.
Clutching my pocket phrasebook, I went in search of information. I found the station manager, an old Japanese man, and between my map and phrasebook and lots of pointing, he eventually got across to me that if I went back into Tokyo, to Nihonbashi, I could take the highway bus to the airport, it was still running. He wrote down directions (in Japanese) and I went off to grab the train I’d just arrived on.
While I was running, a British woman asked if I knew how to get to the airport. She was an English teacher and understood Japanese. I showed her the station manager’s instructions and together we went back into Tokyo. Between the scribbles on my map and her language skills, we found the bus we needed and were on our way to Narita. I might still be wandering around that suburban station if she hadn’t stopped me.
We reached the airport, along with everybody else:
This is just the line to check in for my flight, Continental 7 back to Houston. I checked in, boarded the flight and was home fourteen hours later.