Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Over Narita

"Sometimes I can hear the jets, laced into holding patterns over Narita."

- William Gibson, New Rose Hotel

So I'm off to Japan, where I'll be attending Hal-Con. I'll be in Japan for six days - five nights in Yokohama, where the convention is located, followed by one in Tokyo, which will place me near the airport for an early departure. Sitting here today, it's rather difficult to believe that, almost exactly a week from now, I'll be back in London, and then shortly after that on my way home to Wales. It all seems a little dreamlike. Other than an extremely short visit to Australia for a telescope run, I don't think I've ever flown more than 10 hours in a plane and not stayed for at least two or three weeks. It's a short trip, however, because I've a lot of work on at the moment, with two novels to finish and a busy period of commitments, literary and otherwise, running right through to June. I don't expect to have fully recovered from my jetlag before returning from Japan.

I'm tremendously excited, but also (I don't admitting) a little apprehensive. I consider myself reasonably well-travelled, including a fair few parts of Asia. I've spent time in Malaysia, Thailand, the Phillipines, Singapore, Hong Kong, and I can even legitimately claim to have visited China, albeit as part of a brief tourist excursion over the border from what was then British-governed HK. But Japan promises to be something else again. Every website or guidebook I've looked at leads to me to expect that I can expect a kind of sensory and cultural overload as soon as I get out of the airport. On one level, of course, that's massively exciting - like a chance to step into the future for a few days. But I don't doubt that I'll also find it dizzying and disorientating. I'll also be grappling with total immersion in a foreign culture, which is not something that can really be said of Hong Kong or Singapore. But, again, there would be no point going if I wasn't ready to experience that. As it happens, I've been fascinated by Japan for years - it's somewhere I've always wanted to visit - and I'll be a little disappointed if my perceptions aren't knocked askew just a bit. I fully expect they will be.

I'll aim to blog and tweet during my trip, in so far as it's practical, so watch out for updates.


ps - and - in passing - thanks again to my extremely generous sponsors for the Sport Relief run, many of whom put in money after I'd completed the run. Thank you all for your donations.


  1. Hi Al,
    Enjoy your trip, as whirlwind as it may be hopefully you have some time for the sights (and food!).
    I thought you might be interested in this. I'm in the process of constructing a display case for my collection of your work, so I decided to photograph it as I was moving them from one spot to anther.
    Here's the link: http://photobucket.com/alastaircollection
    This is six or seven years in the making, and many thanks to my wife for her understanding (especially when I made the leap and bought my first edition of Revelation Space).
    Thanks again for your contributions to this genre.
    Matthew Richmond

  2. I'm almost surprised you've been to so many countries in Southeast Asia without having been to Japan. Do you anticipate a language barrier? I understand English is widely spoken in Singapore and Hong Kong.

  3. Hope you have an excellent time in Japan. If you can, don't miss out on Kyoto.

  4. My only visits to China and Japan were on holiday in 1988, and at that time going from Shanghai to Osaka was like going from the 19thC to the 21st in one flight... now, not so much, given what Shanghai now looks like.

    I don't remember much language issue in terms of reading signs in Japan. I do remember consulting a map at a train station and a friendly local came up and offered assistance.

    One thing I noticed about parties of schoolkids - in 80s Communist China the kids dressed in multi-coloured individualistic clothing and were chattering away cheerily, whereas in Capitalist Japan they seemed rather more grim and regimented and were wearing navy-like uniforms.

  5. I am sure that you will have a great time, the culture shock on my first visit was huge. I must have spent 3 weeks walking around feeling like I had somehow landed in a parallel universe. That said it is a beautiful place, the people are exceptionally courteous and genuine in their friendliness (probably a cultural development arising form the population volume versus the square miles of residential land). Sure you'll have a blast and hope the place grabs you like it did me and that maybe there will be some related cultural influence or exploration in some of your future works.
    If you are in Yokohama and Tokyo you should have little trouble getting around.
    In case it helps, take this stock phrase with you:
    Gomen nasai, wakarimasen. Eigo o hanasemaska?
    Transalation: I'm sorry, I don't understand. Do you speak English?
    Pronunciation guide: i is pronounced ee, eigo is pronounced like eh-go, and lift your voice at the end to indicate it's a question.
    All syllables carry the same emphasis - that's the tricky bit for us English speakers that are not used to so many syllables in rapid succession.

    I don't speak Japanese but have picked up bits on various trips, the above may not be spelt perfectly but I can assure you from personal experience it is typically understood.

    Hope you have a great time and put a post up to let us know your thoughts.