by Ian de Stains OBE
I fear I have reached that stage of my life where time hurtles by without mercy. There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done, the week is over before it has had time to begin, and the months turn over endlessly. Can it really be June already?
June, for me, has special associations. For one thing, it is the birth month of the sister I love so dearly. It is also the anniversary of my arrival, thirty-three years ago, in Japan (as it happens, on my sister’s very birthday).
I have told this tale before but it bears the recounting. I took what was then the shortest route, London-Copenhagen-Anchorage (with time out to see the polar bear and buy the Montblanc pen), before arriving at Haneda Airport along with just about every other 747 on the planet—especially those arriving from the West Coast and Hawaii. The Arrivals Lounge was a sea of people (think Shibuya crossing on a really busy weekend), and I took my place at the end of the shuffling queue, passport in hand, wondering what was in store for me in my new job with NHK in a country about which I knew little and a culture about which I knew even less.
After what must have been the better part of 40 minutes, I reached a tall desk behind which sat a very serious inspector-ish sort of man who looked as if he would have preferred to be just about anywhere else. I produced my passport, open to the page where the ink on the highly prized Japanese working visa was barely dry. This he waved aside impatiently. “Where,” he demanded rather in the manner of Lady Bracknell, “is your pineapple?” I was tempted to explain that I didn’t know I needed one.
I was rescued from this somewhat Monty Python-esque predicament by a very kind lady from JAL who escorted me from plant quarantine to the passport control queue, where I joined still more shuffling masses, before eventually emerging into the arrivals hall to be greeted by my remarkably patient hosts who, typically, apologized for the fact that I had had to wait so long.
It was a bizarre start to what we all thought at the time would be a two-year assignment. In hindsight—though I felt an utter idiot at the time—I am glad that it happened, because thereafter I never again took anything about Japan for granted. I hope I still don’t. One of the many great joys of living here is that even after so many years, I can still be taken by surprise; I can still discover something new about something I took to be all too familiar. And perhaps the greatest thing is that I keep discovering new things about myself. Thank you, Japan.
Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is also the author of The Business Traveller’s Handbook to Japan, published by Stacey International and available from Amazon.