The JR East pass
This is the JR East pass. If you are going to visit Tokyo and any points north or east, you want one of these. (If you are going to Kansai or points west, like Osaka/Kobe/Nara/Kyoto, then you want the JR West pass.) You can buy it online and then pick up the actual ticket at the JR ticket counter in Narita airport.
The pass gives you unlimited rides on the Shinkansen and all JR local trains for a period of five days for 20,000 yen ($200) or ten days for 32,000 yen ($320), cheaper if you're under 26. It's only available if you're on a tourist visa, so people living in Japan can't buy it, but if you're just visiting you can. If you take just one Shinkansen trip from Tokyo up to the hinterlands and back, it's already paid for itself, and having it gives you tremendous freedom to just hop on a train and go wherever you want.
There are a couple of caveats. First, if you buy it online, make sure to print out the PDF that they send you with the confirmation email; it will make things much easier, trust me. I thought I could get away with just writing down the numbers, but if you do that the ticket clerk will not be happy. (She was clearly frustrated, saying "Why didn't you print it out?" and if you know how people in the Japanese service industry usually talk, you know that's an expression of pretty severe anger.)
The second caveat is that while the JR East pass works on the JR Tokyo subway system, it doesn't work on Tokyo's other subway system (the Metro), so be sure to look at the signs on the stations and figure out which one you're in.
Of Jet Lag
Jet lag is not so bad going west, like America -> Asia or Europe -> America. It's just like having one day that's much longer than usual. You stay awake until it's bedtime in your new time zone, then pass out and sleep till morning, then you're pretty much good to go, although you'll be waking up at the crack of dawn for a while.
It's much much worse going east, like America -> Europe. Instead of having a day that's much longer than usual, you fast-forward through a very short night, and then things get confusing. When it's bedtime in your new time zone you're not tired yet; you can't sleep, so you stay awake in bed until five in the morning, and then when you finally fall asleep you have to get up again in three hours, and then you're all sleep deprived and falling asleep at two in the afternoon. It sucks! It always takes me much longer to recover from than the westward-traveling jet lag.
As far as I can tell, they mostly don't use deodorant in China or Japan. People don't wear it, convenience stores don't sell it, people look confused if you ask about it.
The mini deodorant I brought with me ran out on like the second day of this trip. Rather than go on a treasure hunt to find some, I've just been doing without. It's not that bad. I just take regular showers and change my shirt after I've been sweating a lot, and nobody expects my armpits to smell like a botanical garden after I've been tromping around in the summer heat all day. Nobody seems to have even noticed.
I might just do away with the deodorant habit from now on. Is deodorant actually unnecessary? Could it be that advertising has lied to us and made us feel bad about the natural state of our bodies in order to sell us stuff? Gasp!
We're obviously living in the future
because I'm blogging FROM AN AIRPLANE!
From the crappiest possible seat on the airplane, the middle seat of the very back row. Because I missed my connecting flight, because Delta can't get a plane off the ground without dicking around on the runway for an hour first. So they're always an hour behind schedule, and they only give you an hour leeway to make connections.
And then they offered to put me on the next flight, but it was completely full, so they put me on standby, so the only way I could get on is if somebody else didn't show. Lucky for me, they didn't. If everybody had showed up I would have had to sleep in Minneapolis and get a flight out at 9am. Bluh.
That's on the way back. On the way there, they sat on the runway for 30 minutes, then kicked four people off the plane because they were over their weight limit. Then sat for another 30 minutes. Then announced that they had accidentally deleted the computer files with their permission codes for takeoff so they had to redo everything. Then sat for another 30 minutes before we finally left.
Delta still sucks, even here in the future.
They also suck because they charge $25 to check a bag at the desk, but they check it at the gate for free when people have too many. So everybody tries to save money by bringing all their bags to the gate, and the half the people who board first with all their extra luggage take up all the luggage space on the plane while the half who board last don't have anywhere to put anything. Basically they make it into a luggage lottery, so it's always a ridiculous game of jockeying for position at the gate and then waiting around while the overflow is checked.
I wouldn't care, except that my accordion HAS to go in the overhead bins. It doesn't fit under the seat and it's too fragile to check into the hold. It would surely be destroyed. So I have to fight to the front of the line to get a bin spot before it's all gone.
Contrast to Southwest, who checks luggage for free. There has always been enough overhead bin space to go around on Southwest flights because they don't encourage people to hog it all. I've never had a problem taking my accordion with them.
In-flight wi-fi is really expensive but it was worth it because I had to put out some fires related to Test Pilot. It's a long story, but every hour mattered and I didn't want to wait until I landed. Blogging in flight is just a side benefit.
Peru Kicked my Ass
Hi, I'm back.
Peru KICKED my ASS. Altitude sickness, sunstroke, and food poisoning tag-teamed me into submission. For a while I had diarrhea so bad that I couldn't hold any fluids in and I was frighteningly dehydrated.
Guys, listen: The Andes are serious business. If you underestimate them, they will punish you. Don't go up to 10,000 feet assuming that the thin air will be something you can "just get used to". Don't forget sunscreen and a shade hat even if it's cloudy and raining in the morning. When surrounded by foods you've never tried before, you don't have to be in a rush to order one of everything.
If I'm better tomorrow, I'll post pictures; if I'm not better, I'll go to a doctor. For now, you can read about our trip on Sushu's blog.