I had ridden to Chicago the previous day with Don Capener so we could be sure to be at the airport in plenty of time. Even though the weather had been clear, there was no guarantee that the first week of January in Chicago would not bring an unexpected snowstorm, so it was better to be safe than sorry. Don had booked a room at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in order to take advantage of the free parking that they offered to hotel guests, as well as the fact that he would be able to leave his car in their parking garage the whole time we would be gone without paying anything extra. Upon arriving at the hotel, I had received an email stating that my first paper as an independent researcher had been accepted. It was an exciting development which led to a frenzied call home to instruct the family how to print off a copy of the paper and mail it to the journal. All I had originally submitted was an electronic copy, and the journal now required a paper version following acceptance. It was the kind of thing that simply could not wait the ten days that we would be out of the country.
Don and I ate breakfast at the hotel and then took their shuttle in to the international terminal. Based on prior experiences with students, Don had asked the 17 of them to be there by 9, even though our flight wasn’t until 12:30. Sure enough, we had all checked in and were ready to head through security when Grant, one of the business students, finally showed up. Three professors were making the trip- Kristin Larson, a psychology professor, joined the two of us in guiding 12 business majors, 3 psychology majors, and 2 biology majors in and around Japan during our 10 day trip. Don’s daughter, Lauren, also a college student, had arranged to meet us in Japan. I, alone in the group, had ulterior motives for wanting to come on the college-sponsored trip: to arrange some of the logistics for my family’s return there in a year and a half’s time, as well as to check out some locations ahead of time. These logistics included where we would live, where I would work, where we would attend church, and where the kids would go to school.
The flight to Japan was fairly uneventful, other than being very long. I was determined not to sleep on the 13.5 hour trip simply because I wanted to reset my body on Japan time by going to bed once we arrived on the evening of January 6th, a full 15 hours ahead of Central Daylight Time. Since we had our choice of movies to watch on a personalized screen which was mounted on the seat in front of me, I spent the time watching 5 – 6 movies, including “The Corpse Bride”, “Wallace and Gromit”, “Cinderella Man”, and “Dreamer”, none of which I had previously seen. In between movies, I got up and walked around periodically, as I heard that one should do on excessively long flights. At 5:20 pm local time, we finally landed in Kansai International Airport.
Waiting for us there were a number of men from Yasaka Taxi Service, a family business of Mitsuji “Mitch” Kumeda, a long-time friend and benefactor of Monmouth College. Having spent a year at Monmouth as an exchange student, he later hit it big with a variety of businesses, which included as diverse pursuits as running Lexus dealerships, a number of restaurants, a natural gas distribution company, as well as the taxi, bus, and tour limousine service. Mitch had never forgotten his experience at the college and was determined to make our visit a memorable one. The thing that impressed me the most about loading a score of us into the three waiting vans was the way the men stacked all of our luggage onto a single cart, forming a pile which reached more than 7 feet tall, before loading it into the trunks of the vans.
I watched the neon signs going by during the 90 minute drive to Kyoto, wanting to take it all in, but eventually found myself dozing off as we entered Osaka en route to our destination. We reached the Rhiga Royal Hotel in the southern part of Kyoto around 8 pm, meeting Mitch and his wife in the lobby. They had brought a package of sandwiches for each person, as well as a selection of drinks. They had obviously thought of everything! We checked in to our rooms, but visited them only briefly before assembling in an upstairs meeting room to go over the schedule for the week, as well as the other logistics of the trip. Since I was so tired by that point, I don’t remember many details of the meeting. Around 9 pm, once our meeting was over, we finally headed back to our rooms. In the hallway, outside of each room, the hotel had placed our luggage. How they knew exactly whose was whose is still a mystery to me, since we had not touched it since we had left the airport. The luggage had sat in the hallway for an hour or so completely undisturbed, of course. I soon changed into my yukata, a light robe that was provided by the hotel, and went to bed.