May 16, 2017
Sitting in United Airline’s economy class, I scanned the menu displayed on the seatback monitor. I couldn’t keep my attention on the information. A stream of thoughts flowed in the back of my mind. I wondered how I was going to acclimate when I landed in Japan. The 14-hour flight along with arriving midday the following day was surely going to disrupt my internal clock. Anxiety slowly began to rise inside of me. I worried how the trip was really going to play out. I was in charge of the itinerary with family members depending on me to have a great experience (talk about pressure!). Did I in fact schedule tour days efficiently? Was I ready to act upon contingency plans that deviated from the itinerary if bad weather, transportation delays or illness occurred? What kind of difficulties would I face in a country where English wasn’t a widely used language? Did I bring enough cash? Did I pack appropriately? I had to stop this self-talk!
Trying to shake off these nagging questions, I pulled myself into the present. Glancing around I noticed that passengers had settled into a restful state. Hushed voices filtered across the darkened cabin where window shades had been pulled down to facilitate sleep. Having left the San Francisco International Airport at noon, we would experience perpetual daylight during the entire flight as the sun chased us around the globe. It was time to get comfortable.
I pulled off my shoes and allowed my stocking feet to rest on my carry-on that was tucked under the seat. With snacks, bottled water, my journal and iPad set up for easy access, I assessed the rest of my family. To my right, my oldest son was playing his video game. On my left, my husband had pulled his baseball cap over his eyes and was trying to sleep. And behind me, my youngest son was bopping to music that streamed from his headphones. Conversation with them was not going to happen. It was time to rent a movie.
Time dragged on. After two movies and a short game played over the back seat monitor, I pulled myself out of my seat and walked to the furthest bathroom to stretch my legs. Sitting on my bum for four hours straight was starting to annoy me. My husband had left his assigned seat hours ago to find empty seats in the back of the plane. I found him and my youngest son stretched out and fast asleep. Errrr! I wasn’t sleepy. Damn. I hated my inability to find sleep while flying.
This was the hardest part of the trip for me. Trying to sleep is a monumental task, nearly impossible. A few years earlier, I had decided to try Ambien on a 10-hour flight to the Fijian Islands. On that trip, I needed to be refreshed when we reached our first leg of the journey. Two more connections were waiting for us with a final destination to a smaller island in the Fijian archipelago. Our total “in-transit” time was going to end up close to 24 hours.
The drug had knocked me out. There was a sense of unease when I woke. First, I couldn’t remember falling asleep. Second, I simply popped awake as we were landing. As if a switch was flipped on. What if I hadn’t “popped” awake to walk off the plane? The experience left me apprehensive and since then drugs are off-limits. I let nature rule but my nature is ruthless. I am still searching for a better way to endure long flights.
The pilot’s voice finally came over the intercom, announcing our impending approach to Narita Airport. I gazed outside to see verdant green spread out below as far as the eye could see. I was expecting a metropolis of concrete, tall buildings, highways. Then I remembered that Narita Airport is nearly 40 miles from Tokyo. Rice fields, rolling, forested hills and a smattering of small towns covered the immediate area. The excitement began to build as I was about to embark on my own personal discovery of the “Land of the Rising Sun”.