Peter Chordas with luggage in Narita Airport

Why Are You Here?

In Tokyo’s Narita Airport, we pulled our carry-on luggage down a long corridor, onto an even longer flat conveyor belt, and at length into a large room which served as the customs checkpoint.

To those of you who have traversed only the airport security of the States, the scene which I encountered could not have been more contrary. The Princess and I were, of course, separated into “Citizens” and “Non-citizens” lines, however both processions moved quickly, civilly, and without the need of armed guards.

Shocking, I know.

In Tokyo’s Narita Airport, we pulled our carry-on luggage down a long corridor, onto an even longer flat conveyor belt, and at length into a large room which served as the customs checkpoint.

To those of you who have traversed only the airport security of the States, the scene which I encountered could not have been more contrary. The Princess and I were, of course, separated into “Citizens” and “Non-citizens” lines, however both processions moved quickly, civilly, and without the need of armed guards.

Shocking, I know.

When my turn came to talk to “the man,” he courteously asked me why I was visiting Japan, how long I was staying, and what I planned to do while I was there. I explained I was there with my fiancée, he stamped my passport, bowed kindly, and waved me on my way.

A Little Luggage Goes a Long Way

Rejoining the Princess, we headed down to grab our luggage and proceed to the third and final leg of our aerial journey—a flight from Tokyo to Osaka’s Itami Airport.

We collected the colossal hardshell guitar flight case, gigantic bicycle box, and two enormous black suitcases off the turnstile, and loaded them, along with our two carry-on bags and two backpacks, onto two Japanese airport luggage carts, because there was no way in hell all that crap was fitting onto one.

Peter posing with way too much luggage in Narita Airport
Do not try this at home—or anywhere else for that matter…

After posing for this photo, I had to turn the guitar case and bike box on end just to fit down the airport aisles without capsizing people.

And MAN—we must’ve looked ridiculous.

I mean, I’m pretty tall in the States—and downright takai in Japan—at six foot even, and I was having to walk on tip toes and constantly crane my neck around one side and then the other of the bike box and guitar case simply to avoid driving them into anyone. Meanwhile the Princess, who comes up shy of five feet with her shoes off, was piloting the other overburdened cart along beside me—and that at a quick clip, since we were running out of time to make our connection.

If I had been, say, a member of a TV film crew prowling for people to interview and saw us trotting down the lane like that, I would’ve immediately relegated us to the bottom rung of potential candidates and moved on. Like seriously, there’s no way I’m gonna stop those clowns and waste reel on them.

So there we were, shoving about two hundred pounds of luggage down the bustling corridors of a Tokyo Airport at holiday time, when I hear “A, chyotto sumimasen!” (“Excuse me”), and turn around to see a three man, and by that I mean two man and one woman, film crew with camera and microphone at the ready.

Shows you how much I know about television.

The Man from Hollywood

As it turned out, they were from a popular national program called Why Are You Here?, which is kind of like a televised version of customs: they find foreigners in airports, ask them why their visiting Japan, how long they’re staying, and what their mission is while they’re there. But unlike customs they don’t give you a stamp and wave you on your way if they like what they hear—they follow you around 24/7 with a film crew, broadcasting your antics to the entirety of Japan, until you complete your stated mission, come hell or high water.

They had a pretty tight operation, with the one guy brandishing the microphone and asking questions in Japanese, the young lady translating (when necessary) into English, and a third guy manning the camera. They were amiable, good-humored, and unhurried—this last point being decidedly unfortunate, us being in a dire hurry and all.

However, our purposes were doubtless a little too open-ended for prime time.

“Why are you in Japan?”
“We’re moving here.”

“How long are you staying?”
“Indefinitely.”

“What’s your mission in Japan?”
“We’re going to move to Kyoto and establish our businesses.”

Talk about a snoozer.

Every story needs a beginning, middle, and end, but within the framework of their show’s driving questions, at least, ours was just a lot of middle. Our businesses were already started, and we didn’t really have a “time line” so much as a “time horizon.”

Our mission wasn’t to hike up Mt. Fuji, compete in the national ping-pong championship, or hitchhike from Hokkaido to Okinawa (the actual mission of one of their current documentees)—it was to live our lives.

I’m sure we could’ve spun all this in a way that sounded more hip and cool—like by including a clearly defined, fully tangible, and reasonably interesting goal, for starters—but we were in a hurry, and had no idea why the fuck they were talking to us.

So much for stardom.

Oh well. We’re not really celebrity material anyway.

Problem Magnets

After this amusing interlude, we scurried to our connection where we found a long line of people waiting to drop off their luggage before heading through Japanese security. Since we were running late, we flagged down a snappily dressed airport attendant lady who ushered us under the cloth barrier belts to a side area.

Because my bike box was large and suspicious, she was soon seconded by a friendly, apologetic gentleman who proceeded to open up and rifle through my bike box to ensure that it really was a bicycle and not a consignment of used heroin needles.

We were coming from Portland, after all.

The Princess did not forego this opportunity to remind me that I’m a problem magnet.

Thanks, Babe.

This accomplished, we scrambled through the Japanese security, which consists primarily of old-fashioned metal detectors, more friendly, unarmed personnel, and slippers for when you take off your shoes.

So much hospitality!

Of course, Hisako’s jewelry tools had to be pulled out of her carry-on for further inspection, creating more delays, and gently reminding us that problem-causing birds-of-a-feather flock together.

At the other end of security, we were greeted by another snappily dressed airport lady who, hailing us by our last names, took us in a beeline to our terminal—because more or less the whole damned plane was waiting for our tardy asses.

We climbed aboard, apologized profusely, and hit the skies. Osaka, here we come!

4 comments on “Why Are You Here?Add yours →

  1. I thought the officers and staff at the airport were very helpful and nice. Even though we had so much luggage and inspections, and we needed to connect to a domestic flight within a short period of time, they were able to conduct these processes smoothly. I was very pleased!

    1. Seriously. I was blown away at how helpful and friendly everyone was! Such a contrast with American airports, where you’re made to feel like existence is a punishable crime.

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