Journey to the heart of the Rising Sun. Pt I (You’re not from around here)

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

The number one question I was asked in response to telling someone that I was going to go to Japan for a couple of weeks was, “Why?”.
I need to memorize this quote for next time I decide to journey out of my front door.

Normally this is where I would give you some background on why it is I decided to quit my job of two years and completely shake my life around like a British nanny with a baby… but that would be boring. And I’m trying to lay off that stuff, I hear it’s bad for your health.

So, this is where I landed after visiting friends in Seattle… The largest area of occupied space in the world.Tokyo at night... from space
The greater Tokyo metropolitan area contains about 32,450,000 people… That’s more the top five most populated cities of America. Combined. And that area covers about 8,000 square kilometers. Kinda mind numbing numbers, yeah?

Enduring a 10 hour flight, after leaving SeaTac at around 3pm on a Thursday July 9th, I land in Narita International airport around 4:30 pm on Friday July 10th. Yep, I lost and entire day in 10 hours. Don’t ask me, I still haven’t figured that out. So, I arrived and went through customs,  which was easier than going through the normal boarding process over here in the States; I received my 90-day temporary visitor stamp and had my picture taken for security purposes. Now, I understand why they did that, but at the same time, if a man of my size, stature, and ethnicity decided to pull something over there, I really didn’t foresee any problems with them picking me out of a crowd. After clearing customs I went and got a few dollars exchanged (more on that later), and tried on my best Sherlock Holmes impression trying to figure out which train station I needed to get to my hotel. As I did that, I was a little surprised by the lack of people at the airport that day. I had prepared myself for an experience similar to when I arrived in Heathrow a few years before; I’m thinking packed like sardines and bad attitudes. This was not the case. I was greeted at every stop along the process and found the terminal devoid of a gaggle of people.

Now, getting back to trying to find my hotel. That was a little more tricky to pull off. I had done my research, thank you Google maps, and had a station at which I needed to get to in order to find the lodgings. With the help of a beautiful lady (there where alot of those) behind an information desk I found that I needed to take the Narita Express to the Shinjuku station and then board the subway to my destination. Simple enough, right? Wrong. I got on the right train… just at the wrong time. This Narita Express was bound for Tokyo station and then Yokohama, not Tokyo station then Shinjuku. So, with the train speeding along I was sure I was going to get a talking-to about this from some underpaid train attendant, or worse, booted out at the next stop, which wasn’t Tokyo. However, I counted some lucky stars that night as the attendant walked right on past me with out checking my ticket. So my next boondoggle was to get off the express at Tokyo station and subway it over to Shinjuku.

Now, in later installments I will go into detail about the train system of Japan, but let me tell you something right now. I don’t care if you’re jet lagged and tired, never and I repeat, never enter a train station in Tokyo during rush hour. It was packed. I had found all the people that I was expecting at the airport. First off, think about all of the business men, office ladies, school children, and young people finishing up work and wanting to go home; and then think of me, lost like duck in a swimming pool, wandering around the station trying to find the connecting train. These are two things that do not go together. Plus, the lanes of walking are on the opposite sides that we’re used to; so there where plenty of funny moments worthy of Benny Hill when I decided to take some stairs up to a platform, only to come down the stairs with a mass of Japanese folks following me to their destinations.

At this time, I was thoroughly embarrassed and getting in people’s way… Now, I mean no offence to the British people when I say this, but if I had of pulled something like this in London at the end of the work day, not only would I have received a verbal dressing of limey profanity, I’m pretty sure there would have been fist and police involved. However, most folks in the Tokyo station that day just smiled and pushed around me. I guess the rumors of the Japanese people’s patience and courteousness are absolutely true… that or they’re so used to clumsy foreigners wandering around aimlessly it’s just part of the day. So now, after about 30 minutes of the stranger in a strange land routine I found my train line and took off towards Shinjuku, and then on to the hotel. Just to point out before I go on, most signage and train-stop announcements in Tokyo are featured in English, thus saving me from more time being lost.

So now that I’m in the area of my hotel, my only obstacle now was finding the place. Once again, my innate sense of direction lied to me and sent me walking around the area for 10 minutes.

Now, I’ve never willingly walked up to a officer of the law. I lived with one for 18 years, and that was enough for me to avoid them like Lindsay Lohan avoids sobriety, but I was lost and had heard that the fuzz in Japan where there to help you if you got off track. After approaching the officer with a bow and asking, in Japanese where the hotel was, I was brought inside the station. This is when the sweat started pouring. But, there wasn’t anything to fear, the officer simply didn’t know where the hotels was located exactly, so he needed to consult his area map. As I walked in to two detectives and an office lady behind the desk, I put on my best “I’m not guilty of anything” face, because like canines, the jacket can smell fear. So, after consulting his map and exchanging a few words with his co-workers, the officer pointed towards an easterly direction and said, “Go two”. I stood there for a few seconds as I waited for the officer to finish his sentence, as I had heard, “Go to”. After repeating himself, I hear a few snickers from behind the desk, and quickly realize that I need to go down the street, east, for what I guessed was two blocks. Not wanting to risk further embarrassment for myself and the officer, I thanked him and bowed and left the station to laughter and Japanese. Apparently “Police” means dick in what ever language you say it in.

Walking two blocks down the way I finally found my lodging, and compared to the spectacle that I was just part of, easily checked in and took a shower.

Now, I just want to point out that as I entered the room, which was dark, I tried flicking on the light only to remain in darkness. After bumping into the bed, trying to get to the lamp next to the bed and getting the same results, I guessed that they had the room on it’s own breaker and just hadn’t turned in on. Boy, was I semi-right but way wrong. As I opened the door to go downstairs and make an ass out of myself, with my key in hand, the light shined on a little box that was on the wall. Noticing a square hole on the top of the box and the square design of the key chain in my hand, I did my best impression of a chimp and put the key chain in the hole. Let there be light, but I’m still waiting on my treat.  They did have the room on it’s own breaker to save electricity, but I was the one who didn’t turn it on. I blame that on jet lag…

Later, I’ll go into detail about how amazing the 7-11’s are when I went looking for a easy meal, but for now I’m going to wrap this part up by saying that you can get 5% beer, not some weak ass 3.2 mess, at these 7-11’s and mixed with jet lag, the combination will knock you on your ass.

To be continued…

Oh, before I go. I want you to think about this beverage that is huge in Japan, that I tried… multiple times, and try to guess what it tasted like. I give you Pocari Sweat.

You know you want it.

You know you want it.


~ by throwingstonesfromthevoid on July 30, 2009.

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