The Yonago Airport is the Mom & Pop's of airports. With a single runway, its three gates almost seem like an unnecessary luxury. Immigration requires the residential address of my stay, which I don't have on me. I'm sent to the end of the line while I text my brother asking for the information. He's running a little late on his way to come meet me, so I have no problem being last through the immigration check. Fingerprint. Photo. Customs.
Last time I flew into Japan I thought it was a fluke that they had to search my bag, but it seems this is standard procedure. A pretty Japanese woman has me unlock my luggage and open it, so she can check underneath everything for, I don't know, hidden compartments? Contraband? Bears, maybe? I'm guessing bears count as contraband.
Satisfied that I'm not bringing bears into the country, she puts my stuff back into the bag, wrongly, and crushes it back into zipper-closable-form. I say a small prayer for my laptop. This is another instance of "protocol unaware Phil." I'd gladly jump in to repack my bag, but I really don't know how much I'm supposed to be helping. Alternatively, I'd reshuffle things before she tried to close it, but I don't want to embarrass this nice woman who is kindly welcoming me into her country. Future Phil will help repack his bag next time.
I greet my brother in the airport entrance and we make our way out into the cold.
My first experience of Japan (for this trip) is driving wind and snow. The temperature is in the 30's (F) and the wind cuts through everything I am wearing. Luke and I talk and laugh as we rapidly walk towards the nearest train station. It's a walk of around 750 ft, but it feels much longer in the cold. I pull on the jacket I'm carrying, passing my rolling luggage momentarily to my brother so we don't break stride.
It makes me feel like I'm back in Minnesota.
We ride the Sakai Line from the Yonago Airport station to the Yonago Station and transfer to the Sanin Main Line to ride to Akasaki Station. The ride takes a couple of hours, a bit longer than usual, due to the windy weather. I don't mind though, it gives Luke and I chance to talk and catch up.
From the Akasaki Station it's a mere 600 ft to Luke and Haley's apartment. The walk is brutal. The wind threatens to end me, or worse, whip my hat off. The road is narrow, maybe wide enough for a car and a half at best. To each side of the street is a gutter which consists of a two foot drop straight down. Careful where you step.
The apartment is cold, but at least it's not windy inside. It's Japanese style, which means there is a small entryway about three feet square for shoes before the tall step up into the house proper. I find myself in a combination dining room/kitchen/entryway which somehow contains a small fridge, a small table, a couple of shelving units, a microwave, a stovetop, sink, and cupboards. A trap door in the light colored wood floor is over near the sink. (No one falls in during my stay.)
A curtain hangs in the entrance to the hallway and two large sliding doors lead to the living room which is also serving as the master bedroom. With the cold temperatures it's more economical to heat one room rather than two. The bedroom now serves as the guest room thanks to a couch which converts into a bed.
The small bathroom at the end of the hall is only big enough for a toilet, but it has the fancy faucet over the tank. When you flush, fresh water comes out of the faucet and drains into the tank. It's a mini-sink for hand washing. Very economical and efficient, though the water is always freezing this time of year.
I only have a few minutes to look around their place before we head out into the storm to go eat supper.
The roads are practically deserted and for good reason. They are awful. Haley carefully drives us down the slippery streets to a small ramen restaurant. The sign outside reads 香味徳 (kami toku) which translates literally to Aroma Flavor Virtue, or perhaps more simply, just Flavor. When we get out of the car I scoop up a handful of snow. There's maybe an inch on the ground at most, and it's heavy and wet. I nail Luke in the side with a medium sized snowball. Whoops.
Hot bowls of ramen are served quickly, the place is empty save for the three of us and a couple of staff. We eat quietly and hungrily, glancing up at the TV news show which is showing heavy snowfall in other parts of Japan. The weather lady has a wand with a large pink foam ball on the end. She uses it to point out areas on the weather map the same way the fairy godmother points to various rodents and changes them into coachmen.
As we leave the building I turn to take a photo of the sign by the entrance, but my iPhone camera is unable to focus and my picture is blurry. By the time we're in the car the sign has been turned off. With weather like this, there's no point in staying open. Everyone has gone home for the day.
So we go home too.