Qantas flight #666 from Auckland touched down smoothly on Narita's second international runway, and coasted to an eventual stop near the main terminal. Ned Rollins felt alert and refreshed after the luxurious first-class service he had enjoyed on board. Coming here for a sponsored two-week stay to participate in an entomology convention was the greatest adventure of his life.
Ned was waved through customs in a jiffy, and immediately upon entering the arrivals lounge spotted his long time mentor. Walden Helmsly stood out in the crowd of otherwise comparatively diminutive greeters present at Gate 27. The kiwis warmly embraced; then Walden took control of the luggage cart and led the way to the parking lot. In the yellow plate very mini van, Ned observed that Walden was baldin'. "A sign of superior intelligence", joshed the older man, and they both had a raucous laughing fit over this clever wit.
Ned was delighted to be reunited with his old buddy, who would take care of him and show him the ropes. During the drive to Tsuchiura, Ned asked Walden to list five things that he liked about Japan and five things that he didn't. "Intelligent people, hard-working people, little crime, shabu shabu, and beautiful women - these things I like. I don't like ugly cities, discrimination, nosy neighbors, right wing sound vans, or toll roads."
About an hour later they were entering Tsuchiura. As they crossed the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) River, Ned remarked on its beauty.
"Extremely polluted" Walden pointed out. "They say if you fall in, you'll turn green."
As they cruised onto the campus of Tsuchiura Science University, Ned was impressed by its size. It even included an expansive, though somewhat aging, hospital. Walden's bachelor faculty apartment was a spacious two-story, two-bedroom affair with adequate balcony and small private garden. Everything was Western style, the residences having been constructed specifically for visiting foreign lecturers. Ned was shown to his bedroom where he unpacked and neatly stowed his clothes away. He then discretely scanned the room for cleanliness and was disappointed to find the TV screen dusty. The toilet room was small and only for that purpose. The toilet itself contained a mini computer system and did everything imaginable to enhance the user's experience. It warmed, it cooled, it vibrated, it washed, it wiped and it could be programmed to match individuals' personal preference settings. The bathroom was modern and ultra high tech. Walden explained the use of the multi-function pulsating shower and the Jacuzzi / spa / hot tub / whirlpool / traditional Japanese style bath. Ned availed himself of its pleasures. As evening approached, they headed out for Ned's first Japanese dinner.
Tsuchiura was an old city of about 250,000 steeped in history with legends and samurai and such. With its "Turtle Castle", yacht harbor, kimono shops and an extensive red light district near the train station among its attractions, the town had indeed something to offer. Yet it was toward the sister city of Tsukuba, about 10km away, that Walden guided the van. In contrast, Tsukuba was a very modern, artificial city of about the same size, population wise. Artificial because the government had created it by joining together several villages, building large research institutes and state-the-art infrastructure, then relocating cutting edge scientists from crowded and expensive Tokyo to the relatively pastoral Ibaraki area. Here one found wide, well-lit streets, numerous fine parks, a long strip containing chain restaurants and fast food joints, and many gaijin researchers.
They pulled into the parking lot of a splendid, well-landscaped, steel, glass and marble restaurant. The lovely kimono-clad hostess led them to a non-smoking table with luscious flower display where the kimono-clad waitress delivered menus and poured green tea. On the opulent stage, a single kimono-clad mock geisha, resplendent in her traditional costume and makeup, soothed the ear and soul with the gentle twangs of her koto. A complimentary tray of smoked ham and rare cheese arrived as the fellows placed their orders. Walden had recommended the large Kobe pepper and garlic steak set and a couple of Asahi Super Dry beers. It turned out to be the most delicious meal of Ned Rollins' life. Adding to his ecstasy, Walden paid the 28,000 yen final bill. Now it was time to check out the Tsukuba nightlife!!!
(To be continued)
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