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Okay, so I've been traveling in Asia since the week before last. I left Tuesday, landed in Tokyo Wednesday, spent Thursday and Friday in Tokyo, ostensibly to do some sales calls. On Saturday I flew from Narita to Taipei. Then I spent the week in Taipei at IETF, which was insanely busy. Today, Saturday, I got up at 5:15 am, caught up on my email, had breakfast as soon as the buffet opened, and then took the Taipei Metro from near the hotel (it's a bit of a walk to the nearest station from the Shangri-La hotel) to the Taipei main railway station.

From there I caught the High Speed Rail to Taoyuan station, and then discovered that it's a 20-minute bus ride from there to the airport. This worked out perfectly well, though. If I had it to do again I'd buy my tickets online, because they have a special set of machines that are just for picking up tickets purchased online. As it was, I faffed around a bit when I got to the station and wound up missing the 7:36 train. Hardly a tragedy—I caught the 8:00 instead. But that on top of the bus delay (I had figured about a five-minute bus ride) meant that I got to the airport only an hour and fifteen minutes before my flight, which was fine, but closer than I like to cut it.

The flight to Narita was relatively uneventful, and I cleared customs quickly. I'm flying home tomorrow, and I debated a bit whether to go back to Tokyo, or try staying in Narita. I absolutely love Tokyo, but it's expensive, and it would have been an extra two hours on the train, plus the expense of those train tickets.

I'd stayed in Narita once before in transit to Korea, and really did not have a good time at all. The hotel I stayed at was near-ish to Narita Airport, but not Narita town, so I was pretty much marooned there, and it was a fairly typical expensive corporate hotel. So I was really reluctant to stay in Narita, but I did a bit of web searching, and discovered that Narita is actually a bit of a tourist destination—there's a famous temple here.

With a little more searching, I found what looked like A reasonably cheap but nice hotel in the town of Narita, the Richmond Hotel. It gets very good reviews on TripAdvisor, so I figured it was worth a shot. I'm there now, in a "comfort double," which is costing about $100/night. It's quite small, but perfectly serviceable. There's a fridge in the room, and there's a Watson's next door (kind of like a 7-11, only with Japanese products instead of American, which means you won't get fat and die young eating them).

The hotel is pretty clearly not aimed primarily at western travelers, although they do try to accommodate us. The folks at the front desk speak enough english to check you in, but not enough to explain the inner workings of the hotel to you, so you have to be willing to cope with that in order to stay here, I think. It hasn't been a problem for me—I was able to figure out how to use the wifi, and so on. There's a FAQ online that answers most of the questions one might have.

To get here I just went downstairs to the train station at Narita Terminal 2, and instead of taking the Narita Express like I usually do, I took the Keisei line train one stop to Narita town, which was about a five minute ride. The trains were running about fifteen minutes apart, so this wasn't an insanely speedy ride, but it did the job, and I was able to spot the Richmond Hotel from the train before I got off (it's not visible from the platform once you've arrived).

There's a direct route out of the Narita station that leads to the hotel, but it's down many flights of stairs, so it's actually kind of a bad way to get there if you're towing luggage. Well, unless you're an attractive woman and are willing to impose upon some very nice Japanese guy who wants to be chivalrous (I witnessed this happening on my way down the stairs after dinner). I was very fortunate in deciding not to go this way— instead, I went out the east entrance, hung a sharp right, went down the hill, under the underpass, and back around to the hotel. There's an escalator on the way back. The Richmond Hotel actually has a free shuttle, but it doesn't run very often, and the train is almost certainly faster. Plus, it's a train.

So the next big worry staying in Japan is what to eat. As a vegetarian, I'm basically a space alien here. There are Japanese people who are vegetarians, but it's way less common than in the U.S., as far as I can tell. It's also possible that it's more common than that, but that you need to be able to speak Japanese to negotiate. Be that as it may, the first time I came to Japan I basically ate veggie burgers at the Hard Rock Cafe every night for a week. Yuck.

Fortunately, it turns out that there's areally nice vegetarian cafe in Narita, the Easy Life Cafe. I had an early dinner there. Nom. I got their special, which included five little Japanese noshes artfully arranged around a centerpiece which happened to be deep fried taro root balls today. It also came with a drink, a bowl of rice, and a bowl of really good miso soup. There were many other vegetarian options. Dinner was 1000 yen, because I upgraded my drink to a yummy "vegetable juice."

I found myself remembering a dear old friend, Asako Takami, who passed away a few years ago after a long illness. When she stayed at the caretaker house at Diamond Mountain, she used to cook elaborate meals consisting of five or six tiny little piles of food with soup, pretty much just like the dinner I just had. It's funny how these memories leap out at us from the most unexpected places. I miss Asako. Crying now. Sigh.