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Well, it was 4:30AM on November 14th, 2003, and time to get up. But instead of dragging myself to the office that day, I was going to Japan! A girl who was a close friend of mine at the time was pulling up to the curb to take me to the airport. That's us at San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport. She gave me a checklist of things to do while I was in Japan.
I had been up until almost 2:00AM packing (that's me, packing at the last moment), and was really tired, but I didn't know it yet. I was excited! I had my GBA and a copy of Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced, which I had bought specifically for the trip, so I was set! My flight would take me from San Diego to San Francisco, and then from San Francisco to Tokyo (Narita). The flight to San Francisco was quick and painless, except for the awful airport security procedures.
The wing of the airport where I was to catch the second flight was full of Japanese people, so I had fun chatting with several of them. There was this one couple of girls that I was chatting with until it was time to board the plane. One girl's mother or grandmother noticed this and made some kind of rude comment in Japanese. The girl, with a rather shocked look on her face, yelled back, in Japanese, "You know, he can understand Japanese!" The woman's face turned red and she quickly turned away from me, and wouldn't look at me again. Obviously she was embarrassed. I thought the whole thing was pretty funny.
Anyway, the long flight to Japan began. I took my seat, which was next to a Japanese businessman, and we chatted in Japanese for a bit. After about an hour of sitting in that airplane seat, though, my fatigue caught up with me. However, I wasn't able to sleep at all on the flight. I've never been good at sleeping while sitting up, unless the seat is really comfortable, which airplane seats are not. I played GBA for a while, but eventually the strategy game got to be too much work for my poor brain. I needed some passive entertainment.
Thankfully, the Japanese airline had really excellent accommodations. Each seat had a built-in LCD screen and headphone jack. You could watch movies, play video games, and listen to music. You could also hook into several video feeds of cameras attached to various locations on the exterior of the plane, or view an annotated digital map that tracked the plane's movements. It was really cool. Being used to American airlines, however, I just assumed it cost money to use, so at first I didn't try it. But it turned out to be complimentary, and the movies were great for passing time.
Another excellent thing about the airline was the food and drink. Drinks were free, even wine and beer, unlike on American airlines where they charge $5 for a plastic cup with only two thirds of a can of beer in it. I didn't buy alcohol, but I thought it was nice that everything was free. The food though, that was the best part of the flight! They had excellent, full-sized meals which would compare favorably to most eateries in San Diego. I really looked forward to each meal!
Trains in Japan are really well-timed. They arrive exactly on time and leave exactly on time. That also implies that they wait for no one, though. When I first arrived at the airport and took the train to Tokyo. Rouko said "Hurry! One minute!". We had about 50 seconds until it was to depart. I remember thinking "What if it leaves half a minute early?", but nope, it left exactly on the minute mark. And yeah, we made it in time.
After dropping everything off at the hotel, I wanted to go out with Rouko and her friend. Although I had slept only ninety minutes out of the past 36 hours or so, and had to fight to keep my eyes open, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to go have some fun on my first night in Japan. They were planning to just go home (they live in Yokohama, not Tokyo, and so were quite far from home), but I convinced them otherwise and we hit the town. I really wasn't up for much, though, with my condition, so we eventually just settled on getting dinner. I ordered udon because I was too tired and hungry to take a big risk with my choice of food.
Finally, it was getting late, and the youth hostel was about to close its doors, so I had to go back. After saying goodbye to Rouko and her friend, I went to my room and crashed.
Thanks to the jet lag, I was able to get up very early the next day. After showering, I ate their basic Japanese breakfast (fish, rice, miso soup, etc). Since there was nothing to do at the youth hostel, I wandered around Tokyo for a few hours. Actually, I just walked in a straight line to avoid getting lost! At 10 AM, the youth hostel was kicking everyone out, so I got my bags and took a train to Haneda airport to catch my flight to Hokkaido. I wanted to do this by myself, but a rather loud, slightly drunk Japanese man took it upon himself to help me. I tried to tell him that I was fine and didn't need help, but we couldn't communicate. His loud, boisterous "help" was rather embarrassing, actually, but I suppose I should appreciate it.
When I went to use the bathroom, I got a surprise in the form of the Japanese toilet. Though I'd read about them prior to going, I still wasn't quite prepared for using one. After that, I made a point of avoiding them, and was lucky in that I only had to use that style of toilet thrice in the month I was there.
I tried to pass some time by talking with other people who were waiting. Not many people were interested, but I did find one nice girl I could talk to for a bit. After an eternity or two, 4:40 rolled around, and I could board my plane. The crew of this flight spoke absolutely no English, though I didn't mind at all. An older man sitting next to me apparently didn't understand the rules about electronic devices (though I suppose this one flight could have had different rules than all the other flights I'd ever been on, but I doubt it) and wouldn't let me use my GBA while the plane was in flight. I wasn't about to argue with him, and just sat through the whole flight.
Finally, I arrived in Hokkaido! My host mother, Fuyou, was there at Kushiro airport to pick me up, but I wasn't done yet. I still had to go from Kushiro to their home town, Shiranuka (official site). Thankfully, that only took about 20 minutes. On the way there, I saw a fox for the first time! (and second, and third, and... there were lots of them!) To my dismay, however, when I arrived in Shiranuka, I discovered that it was terribly boring.
Though I was tired from being in transit all day, I still helped out at the small school that my host family owned. It's a small private school geared to tutoring elementary school students -- not because they need help, but rather so they can excel and have better chances later in life. Fuyou taught English, while her husband, Kazuhito, taught math. There were only seven students that night, four learning English and three learning math. I really enjoyed helping out. Afterwards, I drank some beer (Sapporo) with Kazuhito and chatted with my host family (which was just the two of them, though Fuyou was newly pregnant). Kazuhito also played the piano, and was pretty good! After that, it was only about 9 or 10, but I was really tired, so I slept.
I woke up early again due to the jet lag. Fuyou cooked breakfast, and it was excellent, because the vegetables were so delicious. I had only had vegetables that good one other time in my life. I guess the availability of fresh vegetables is a benefit of living out in the country. I showered, and had to shower in the Japanese style (sitting down), because the shower head was only about 4 or 5 feet off the floor. Standing up is far superior. When I came out, Fuyou was playing the piano. Not so well, but she was learning.
To the left is a picture of the main room in the house, with Fuyou, Kazuhito, and the dog, Romanee (which I suspect was named after a type of wine). Kazuhito is playing the piano. Below that are pictures of Kazuhito, Fuyou and Kazuhito, Fuyou's father, and Fuyou's mother, respectively. To the right are pictures of the shop that that Fuyou's father owns. It's by far the nicest shop in the whole town, but the prices are insane! A single shirt costs from $80 to $300!
I went to the shop to help them out, but there wasn't much I could do, so it was pretty boring. About the only thing I could do was help move dishes into the new room, which was just rebuilt (after being destroyed in the strong earthquake that had happened a couple months prior). It was an especially slow day because Fuyou's parents were out of town, so customers didn't want to come until they returned. At least they fed me well there. We'd eat brunch, lunch, and dinner in the shop, and it was delicious when it wasn't too weird.
After nearly dying from boredom, I decided to go for a walk around the town. It wasn't much better. Shiranuka is a really awful place to be if you're looking for entertainment. I checked out all the nearby stores, but the highlight of the walk was when I helped an old woman get up some stairs, so that tells you about how interesting this town was.
After I returned, they finally had something for me to do -- put up and decorate a Christmas tree. You can see it in the picture to the right. At first, Kazuhito did the lights, and they were really awful! (They were done in a really "male" style, and not beautiful!) Even the customers said they looked bad! Everyone had a good laugh. I redid them, and I think they turned out alright. We took a break from decorating to have tea and cakes. The tea was standard green tea, which I'm not too fond of, but the cakes were excellent! After that, I fell in love with Japanese western-style cake. Unfortunately, they weren't purchased in Shiranuka, but rather in Kushiro, so I couldn't easily get my own. After eating, we went to finish decorating the tree, and in the box was a bit of mistletoe. They tried hanging it on the tree, which I thought was pretty funny, so I explained how it was to be used and hung some above the doorway and the counter.
Dinner was good, except for the awful little fish (shown to the right)! After dinner, I helped out at the school again. It was really fun and I wished it lasted longer.
The dog goes to the bathroom inside the house. I'm surprised because they live out in the country. It's a two-person ordeal, and would be funny if it wasn't so strange. I don't know if that's common in Japan.
Today, we took a business trip to Obihiro. My purpose for going was to try and get money from my bank account, somehow. Gas stations here are full service, and expensive! It cost about three or four dollars per gallon, depending on the grade. I played my GBA much of the time. A flock of swans flew low overhead, another first for me.
Now this is really funny. Vending machines can be found everywhere in Japan! Even next to farms and stables way out in the middle of nowhere! Ramen shops are another common sight. We decided to stop at one for lunch. I ordered some kind of spicy ramen and the bowl was HUGE! It was about thirteen inches in diameter and five inches high. And that was just the medium size! It was also excellent, and bore no resemblance to the ramen sold in US supermarkets.
We finally arrived in Obihiro. To my surprise, they just pointed me towards a main street and said "good luck"! Knowing little more than the kanji for "bank", I set out. It didn't take too long to find one. I tried to speak Japanese, but these were complicated financial matters, so I didn't get very far. Thankfully, the guy could speak English well enough. They couldn't do anything for me though, and told me to go to the ATM at the post office. I succeeded eventually, and with a wallet full of yen, I had to buy something. So I stopped by a "Mister Donut" and bought a couple of donuts. The clerk seemed very apprehensive when I approached, probably because she didn't speak English, and she seemed relieved when I ordered in Japanese. Money in Japan is too convenient, though. They have coins in denominations up to 500 yen (about $5), which makes it far too easy to spend money.
For dinner, Hideo, a family friend, came over to cook for us. He's a chef and specializes in French cuisine. Also, two women and a young girl came over. The food was sooo good, and trumped by far all the other things I've said were excellent. There were four or five dishes, one after another. Hideo was a really nice guy, and funny too, judging by the laughter. We played some PS2, and then everyone left. So, I went to bed.
I slept in today, because I was up too late the night before. I decided to take a train to Kushiro because Shiranuka is too boring. I left around 11:00 AM. The first thing I did was find a cake shop so I could buy some of those awesome Japanese cakes! I walked around, but it was also boring because all the young people were at school or work. I saw the Hanadokei (flower clock, shown right), the evergreen gardens, the big fish market, some monuments, a park dedicated to peace or something, etc. I also saw a soapland, which was enticing, though I'd be too embarrassed to go into that kind of place.
When I found my way back to the main street, I saw a little girl (about 7 years old?), walking all alone. It was shocking, and I thought she might even be lost or something. I greeted her and asked her where she was going. She was just going home, she said, from school I guess. A few minutes later, I noticed more and more kids -- they were everywhere! I guess school had just gotten out. It's shocking that nobody worries about these little kids walking through the city all alone. I guess it really is a safe place...
Anyway, since school was out, I went to a major department store (which previously had few customers in it), and sure enough, there were lots of young people around. I struck up a few conversations, but foolishly forgot to get any phone numbers. Soon, it was nearly time to go home, so I ate some onigiri. But it had ume-boshi inside, which I hate! Blech! I still ate it, though, trying as best I could not to taste it. I also had a donut at the train station's Mister Donut shop for dessert. Since I had gone to Kushiro, I missed my chance to eat dinner in Shiranuka. Although I was only about 7:00, I was really tired. Still jet lagged, I guess.
School that night took too long because there are too many students. Also, I wasn't allowed to help out. I'd gone too long without exercise, too, so I did some pushups down in the shop. Finally, school finished and I could go home and go to bed.
It's strange that many light switches are outside the rooms in which the lights are. I often ended up going into the laundry room/bathroom/shower/etc, closing the door, and then having to go back out and turn on the light.
I went to Kushiro again today, but it was cold and rainy. The rain seemed to draw out the foreigners like the worms that they are. I saw two that day, which were the only two I'd seen in the entire time I'd been in Hokkaido. I went into a department store and was annoyed by this guy who was obviously trolling for chicks... because that's why I was there. But there weren't many anyway, due to the rain. I got more cake, as always, but didn't find anything fun to do. Eventually, I went back to the station and decided to have dinner there. Of the menu items I could read, the shrimp curry sounded best. It was mediocre (like everything else at the in-station restaurant), and relatively expensive.
Everyone kept staring at me there. I think it's because westerners are such an uncommon sight. I know that in Shiranuka, I was the only westerner in the entire city. It was amusing because people did double-takes driving by, or stopped to stare. I'm not sure if it was movie star treatment or negro-down-south treatment.
I didn't go to Kushiro again today because I thought it might rain again. I stayed at the shop, but it was very boring, as usual. I tried calling my family members, but couldn't get ahold of anybody, so I called a friend. I sat through school, but couldn't help again this time. Later, at home, I was challenged by Kazuhito to do some of his trigonometry problems. I had nearly forgotten everything I learned in school, but was able to solve them all. Then, we drank beer and played Egg Mania for the PS2. After beating him a few times, he gave up.
I slept in late again today, and took a long shower. Afterwards, I had to manually de-lint my clothes with tape, because their method of drying clothes consists of just hanging them up. It's a real pain. Later, at the shop, I saw myself in the mirror and didn't recognize myself for a split second. I started to smile at the new person before I realized it was me. I can't remember that happening to me at any other time in my life, so I wonder what caused it. I tried to call my family again, but still couldn't get ahold of anybody.
I got bored at the shop, so I went to Kushiro again. On the way there, I was talking in Japanese with a woman who must have been in her 50s or 60s. It turned out that she was the vice principal of Shiranuka High School. When I arrived in Kushiro, it was two degrees Celsius outside. That wasn't so bad, but it was also extremely windy, which made it much worse. Later, the temperature dropped to several degrees below zero, and parts of me started to freeze, which wasn't fun. So I couldn't walk around outside for long periods of time, and had to keep indoors. By chance, I met that vice principal again on the street, but we could only exchange a few sentences before she had to leave for a meeting of some sort. She seemed nice. Few people were out due to the weather, and eventually, I just got too cold and bored, so I went home.
Fuyou and Kazuhito had a wedding party to go to tonight. I'd have accompanied them, but it costs about 10,000 yen to attend. Apparently, in Japan, you have to pay to attend weddings. The money goes to defray the costs of the party, but I still think it's excessive. While waiting for them to come home, I played some more Egg Mania on the PS2. When they finally came home, Fuyou was so well made up, dressed in a nice kimono and with her hair put up in a typical Japanese style. I should have taken a picture -- it was really impressive!
Today, for the first time, I didn't go to work at the shop at all. Instead I just slept in late, ate breakfast, checked my email, and played Egg Mania until 2:30. It was much better than hanging around the shop (except for the excellent food they'd feed me there)! Then, I showered and went to the station to catch the train to Kushiro again.
After arriving there, I got cake, as usual, and headed to the department store to eat lunch. Like most Japanese department stores, they had a whole floor dedicated to restaurants and whatnot. However, nothing seemed appealing, so I walked around town. Eventually, I stopped a couple of girls and asked them where I could find a good place to eat. They said that if I went straight for a long way, I'd find a bunch of restaurants. But all I found was a ramen shop, and it was closed. However, I noticed a side street, an area that I remembered as having a lot of good places but couldn't remember how to get to, and went there. That's probably what they were talking about.
I found one restaurant that seemed very nice. It had plenty of people and good-looking food. However, it also looked expensive, so I walked around, searching for some other place to eat. The food had looked so good that I eventually returned, though. It was fancier than I thought. I had to take off my shoes and sit on a little cushion, and there were pretty women coming up to me on their knees to ask what I wanted to eat. It was difficult, but I was able to order in Japanese. I got some kind of fish, and some onigiri. I told them they could put anything inside the onigiri except ume-boshi! They put tuna in there, I think.
It seems Japanese people have no qualms about eating fish bones and skin. It's nearly impossible to remove the bones and skin with chopsticks, so I ate it that way, too. It wasn't so bad, after all, and the meal only cost 1500 yen (about $15). But then, all I got was a plain fish and a rice ball. So, given that, I'd still consider it to be an expensive place.
After eating, I went straight back to the station because I didn't know what time it was. Thankfully, I hadn't missed my train or anything. I saw a group of four girls sitting on the floor waiting for a bus, and went to talk with them. One was pretty, one was OK, and the other two were kind of unsightly. They were trying to convince me to hook up with the ugliest one, but I wasn't interested.
After talking with them for an hour or so, I went to Mister Donut and bought a couple donuts. One of the girls I
was talking with said that she works there, so I'll look for her in the future. After eating the donuts, I had to
board my train. On the train, there was a young guy sitting across from me. He looked like a punk, but his
mannerisms told me that he was friendly, so I struck up a conversation with him. He was indeed friendly. We talked
until I had to get off at Shiranuka. I regret not having taken pictures of all the people I met.
I really like Kazuhito. He's friendly, and always expressing his feelings, singing when he's happy, being silly, and has the confidence to do it around other people. He's creative, fun, and nice, but still exudes great masculinity. And he seems very happy too. I really envy him at times. As for Fuyou, I'm not so sure what to feel about her. She's nice, happy, and pretty. She's not as open as Kazuhito, but I suspect that's typical of Japanese women.
I wasn't sure whether to go to the shop or to Kushiro, but it didn't matter because Kazuhito accidentally took the house key. Since I couldn't leave the house (because I wouldn't be able to lock it), I hoped that I could at least avoid paying for food by not going to the city. I played Egg Mania for a few hours. It's a really good game! I finally beat the "normal" mode, and then a couple more times without dying. But the "hard" mode is impossible! But then again, the previous day I thought the end boss in "normal" mode was impossible, and at this point I could beat him consistently. However, I think the hard mode would take far longer than a day or two to master. It's extremely hard!
There were a couple of earthquakes, too. They weren't strong, but unlike the earthquakes I remember in San Diego, which only last a few seconds, these earthquakes lasted ten to twenty seconds each.
I tried calling my family again. I finally got ahold of my mom, but still wasn't able to get ahold of my dad. To pass time, I played GBA for a while. Finally around 9:30PM they came home, and happened to be going to get food, which was great because I was starved! We went to the convenience store. I got tea, yogurt, some kind of flat-bread sandwich, and some cheesy shrimp pasta stuff. I had to pay for it, but convenience stores are cheap and good!
Later that night, Fuyou was acting strangely. During my stay, she occasionally got sick from being pregnant. Poor girl.
I notice that they don't really show any affection for each other. Is it because of me? Possibly... or maybe it's because they've been married long enough that they're used to each other. But I get the impression that it's normal for Japanese couples to not show affection, at least when other people are around.
Kazuhito left on a business trip to Tokyo. He'll be back in a few days. Today was almost a total waste because it rained all day and night. I didn't go to Kushiro, and since it was Tuesday, we didn't go to the shop. So I just sat home all day. It was annoying because I could just as well do that in the US! I was also alone because Fuyou had left to go to her parents' house. They live next door, actually.
For dinner, she invited me to their house, and we ate very strange food. There was rice and miso soup of course, ume-boshi, some kind of large, sweet beans, some kind of pickled vegetable (cabbage? It was awful), and whole, cooked fish. And by whole, I mean including the head, skin, fins, organs... everything. And these weren't tiny fish like before. They were probably 6-10 inches long. But as long as I could forget about the fish head/organs being pulverized in my mouth, it was surprisingly good.
There was another earthquake today, still weak, but the tremors must have lasted two or three whole minutes. I'd hate to be in a strong one! But thankfully, there was sunny weather and clear skies again! Unfortunately though, a clear sky meant it'd be extremely cold come nightfall. In fact, it was cold enough that I broke down and bought myself some gloves.
In Kushiro, A couple of the girls I'd met earlier saw me and ran over to say "hi", but they were in a hurry to get to work or something. I wandered around, bought some cake, and eventually returned to the station. There were a number of people I'd met before there, as well as some I hadn't. There was this one young guy, about 16, who had a huge earing! The hole in his ear was almost a centimeter in diameter!
On the train home, there were four young, perverted, vulgar students. They were kind of funny in a slapstick sort
of way, but I don't like those kinds of people. There were three guys and a girl. The guys were being rude, saying
vulgar things, making vulgar gestures, etc. The girl was acting "H" and being an exhibitionist, showing parts of her
body, but never too much (or should I say, never enough?
After returning home, I paid Fuyou for the time I'd spent there so far. I didn't expect her to charge an extra 5% for "tax", and I guess my help at the shop/school wasn't good enough because I only got one day's credit (500 yen). So it totalled about 23,000 yen for 10 days -- over 50% more than I was led to believe it'd be, but still an excellent price on an absolute scale. After playing a bit of GBA, I headed off to bed.
I woke up at the regular time today, but I suspected Fuyou wouldn't be making me breakfast, because it'd been about 80 minutes and she hadn't called me. After going downstairs, I saw that she'd already left. It sucked because it's not like there was anything I could eat around there. I decided to eat a Cup o' Noodles that was in the fridge. The Cup o' Noodles they sold aren't like the ones in America. They're about two or three times the size and have a lot more vegetables and stuff inside.
I went to Kushiro again and it was surprisingly warm (if you can consider 5 degrees warm). I didn't run into anybody I knew, but on the way there, I talked to this young girl who was sitting and reading a magazine about homes and home decorations, and other things that you'd expect an older woman to be looking at, not a young girl. Her name was Tomomi. As soon as she found out that I spoke some Japanese, she never stopped talking. She's a cute little girl, though, and it was fun conversation. But all things considered, this day was mostly a waste. I didn't do much.
It's unfortunate that I couldn't read kanji well, because I only saw 5-10% of the places I could go to -- the ones on the ground floor, facing the street. Most buildings were 4-10 stories tall and contained up to 30 shops (and sometimes there were places in the alleys between buildings as well). Of those 30, I may have seen 2 or 3. There were signs that told what and where the others were, but I couldn't read them. Not every place had the luxury of being adjacent to the sidewalk, and I'm sure I missed out on a lot of great places.
I got a lot of compliments on my face, and especially my nose. I don't know why everyone seems to like my nose so much. I don't think it's all that great...
I went home and Fuyou was in the bath, so I had to wait for her to get out before I could brush my teeth and go to bed. When she came out, though, I got a lecture about eating that Cup o' Noodles. She said she had called me to breakfast, but I don't imagine she put much effort into it (like, actually going upstairs or knocking on my door). Actually, she didn't. I'm not sure how she expected me to be awakened when she called me from downstairs, inside the kitchen, while my door was shut. She certainly puts more effort into calling Kazuhito. Anyway, I need to buy another Cup o' Noodles tomorrow. Oh well, bed time.
Well, Fuyou sure seems like she's in a pissy mood today. She didn't call me for breakfast. Instead, she just pounded on my door a few times, without saying a word. She didn't seem to want to say good morning, and when I tried to chat, she didn't want to say anything. Sheesh... women!
I was going to go to the shop today, but because of Fuyou's mood, I thought it'd be too uncomfortable. So, I
went to Kushiro instead. While I was waiting for the train, I tried that drink, Pocari Sweat. It really tasted like
sweat! Well, actually, it was like slightly watered-down Gatorade. I left for Kushiro early because I wanted to see
it during the day again (the only other time I had was the first time I went) and check out some places like the
peace park, etc. After doing that, I went to the bread shop at the department store. The automatic doors here never
seem to open quickly enough. I always need to walk slowly or stop for a split second and wait. Perhaps the Japanese
walk a bit more slowly, with their short little legs and all.
I like how in Japan, there are a lot of specialty shops rather than a relatively few general purpose shops, like
in the US. It's really great, because when you specialize in one thing, you tend to do it well, and there's quite a
variety of goods offered at these specialty shops. I've never seen so many types of bread in one place before. I'll
also note that this particular shop seemed to employ a number of retarded young people (looked like Down
syndrome). From what I'd heard, those kinds of people are generally kept out of sight and treated poorly in Japan,
so I thought the owner was being very cool. Though for all I know, they could have been slave labor.
As I was sitting there eating my lunch, Tomomi, the young girl I met on the train yesterday, waved at me through the window. Apparently, she had seen me walking on the street, and followed me. Anyway, we talked for a while, ate some cake that I had bought earlier, and visited an office that specialized in hooking Japanese up with English-teaching schools in Japan and elsewhere. I spoke to them in Japanese and told them that she was my daughter and that she wanted to learn English. (In fact, she couldn't speak English at all, knowing only "hello" and "bye-bye".) Of course they didn't believe me, but they laughed and invited us in and we all had an interesting conversation. I had a chance to speak English with a cute little girl that happened to be there (6 year old? 5?). After that, we walked back to the train station. I saw a group of about 10 high school girls. So I walked over and said hi, introducing Tomomi as my daughter again. What a great tactic! They all laughed and we chatted for a while. But Tomomi didn't like being left out, and she had to go anyway, so I said goodbye to the high school girls, bought Tomomi a donut, and after she was done, sent her on her way. I chatted with the high school girls for a bit longer, but they turned out to be not so interesting.
I remembered the Cup o' Noodles. I had tried to buy one in Shiranuka, but they didn't sell it anywhere within walking distance. I had to go to several stores, but I finally found the exact type I had eaten. By this time, it was about 6:30. I had in my pocket a map to a Mormon church/meeting place (given to me by a couple of Mormons). They had said that on Fridays, there's an English class for Japanese, and that being a native speaker, it'd be great if I could attend. The map was all in kanji, though, and after walking around in the freezing cold for a long time, I returned to the station so I could sit down with my kanji dictionary and try to decipher it. But when I walked in, I saw the clock and realized that it had already started, so I gave up on that. I was hungry though, so I went outside and walked to the nearest open restaurant, a ramen shop. I couldn't read the menu, and they didn't have a food display (which was surprising), so I just asked for tonkatsu (pork) ramen. It was good except for the fact that the pork was very fatty (about half of the meat was fat). I felt embarrassed to be picking off all the fat. After that, I bought some donuts for dessert (they're really good!), and waited for my train.
About 15 minutes after I came home, Kazuhito returned from his business trip. It was good to see him. We were talking, but about 5 minutes later, Fuyou came home with the dog, and the dog grabbed his attention. Anyway, Fuyou seemed to be in a better mood, so that was good. Kazuhito offered me some beer, and after doing my laundry, I went to bed.
This morning Fuyou gave me some natto. If you don't know what it is, it's essentially rotten soybeans. Rotten, slimy, and with a putrid smell, I'm surprised anybody actually eats this stuff. The taste wasn't as bad as I expected, though it certainly wasn't good! You can see it to the right.
I really hated de-linting clothes manually. I spent over 15 minutes de-linting a single pair of pants!
I decided to go to the shop because it was cloudy out and looked like it might rain... and because I felt like it was rude to spend so much time in Kushiro. I didn't feel welcome though, mostly because Fuyou asked me to move to a small, uncomfortable table in the corner, out of sight. It was really lonely sitting in that corner, but at least I got good food! While studying Japanese, I saw that the Japanese had one-upped us yet again! In English, we have "defenestrate", but they have a word that means "to commit suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train". Today was mostly a waste, I thought.
Skies are blue today, with scattered clouds, but I predicted that it'd turn gloomy and rainy. But if not, I'd go to Kushiro, I decided. I didn't want to waste another day! Tomomi had invited me to a festival, but I didn't remember which school she goes to, so I had no chance of finding it. I hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed that I didn't show up. I was right about the weather, though. It soon grew overcast and looked like it'd rain. Because of the thick cloud cover, it was warm enough that if not for the chance of rain, I wouldn't even need a jacket.
Many buildings have heavy earthquake damage. The picture to the right shows one such building. It's blurry because I took it in near darkness, leaving the shutter open for a long time to gather as much light as possible. But I didn't have a tripod, so I had to try to hold the camera perfectly still, which is nearly impossible.
I visited a pachinko parlor. Before arriving in Japan, I thought that pachinko was for people young and old alike, but I soon realized that it was basically just for old people. While pachinko itself seems completely passive, the parlor also had games of skill. Some people were very good at them and were making a ton of tokens/balls. Actually, I think they get prizes in exchange for the tokens/balls, and I've read that some people are good enough to make their living playing pachinko games, by selling the little prizes they win back to the parlor.
As I was eating my lunch at the bread shop as usual, Tomomi found me again. I wasn't too surprised, honestly. In fact, I almost expected it. We talked for a while, and I agreed to meet her back at Kushiro station on November 1st, 2014, at 12:00 noon. Kind of foolish to blindly make such a commitment, I now think, but it should be interesting anyway. We wandered around the top floor, which held the restaurants, a small arcade, and some photo booths. The prices at the arcade are insane! A dollar or two per game! Needless to say, I didn't play anything. We did take some pictures, though. By that time, I wanted to leave, and I returned to the station to see if there were any people I knew there. There were two, but they were busy. There were very few people around that night, like the city was dead! Maybe because it was Sunday? We went to Suehiro Blvd., which has a number of good places to eat. We went to a cafe that was playing music -- it seemed like a fun place. Since I couldn't read the menu, I asked her to find something good with meat in it. She pointed out a few things, and I chose one at random. It turned out to be a big ring of seasoned rice with some soupy stuff in the middle. I also got some beer. It was a good meal, and I couldn't eat more than half of it before I was full. After that, we returned to the station, since it was time for her to leave. After realizing that there was truly nothing to do at the station and nobody around, I decided to leave too, but I missed my train by less than a minute. So, I walked around (paced is more like it) for 70 minutes until the next train arrived. Not many trains go to Shiranuka because it has a population of only about 12,000 people. I almost missed that one too because I wasn't watching the clock! But I caught it with three minutes to spare.
My trip was half over at this point, but I still felt like I'd just arrived! It was going far too quickly.
Tomomi was at the station waiting for me. I guess she doesn't have anything better to do than to hang around
Later on, we ate at a KFC. I don't like fried chicken, but I didn't want to keep wandering around in the cold, looking for a good place. Thankfully, they had a pot pie, but it was quite strange and small compared to what I'm used to in America. In Japan, they have a liquid sugar that they use for mixing into drinks. I remember hearing about this. It dissolves quickly, even in cold drinks. Why don't we have that kind of thing in the US?
At the station, one guy came up to me and tried to speak English. I don't know if he understood my replies, though. Not many people spoke English there. I found myself using Japanese exclusively most days, at least until I came home. Fuyou spoke pretty good English, as would be expected from an English teacher, but I still had to speak to Kazuhito in Japanese, mostly.
I returned home, but had forgotten to buy something for the next day's breakfast. It got late and Kazuhito hadn't
returned from work. I was a bit concerned. Eventually he came home around 11:15, totally drunk. He stumbled around
for a bit, and then lay down on the floor. He was trying to talk to me in English, spouting memorized phrases, but
didn't really comprehend my replies, I don't think. I tried to convince him to play the piano (it'd have been funny
One annoying thing I've noticed is that in advertisements, product names, etc, often the writing system will be changed mid-word (because it's "cool" or something). It's annoying because I often rely on changes in the writing system to indicate word breaks. It's be like putting punctuation/capitalization in random places in English writing. They also sometimes use utterly ridiculous, unreadable fonts. I guess we do, too, though.
Heh, Kazuhito is paying the price this morning for his drinking binge. I guess he has a pretty bad hangover today.
In Kushiro, there was almost nothing to do. I didn't even run into Tomomi today. But I did make a plan to go out
with one girl tomorrow, and a couple other girls on Friday, so that was good. I ran into three assholes at the
station and ended up talking with them for 90 minutes or so. They said they don't go to school and don't work, and
get their money by letting people beat them up. They all smoked and littered everywhere, and I was embarrassed to be
around them. They tried to hook me up with passing females, but nobody would even acknowledge their existence. I
can't say that I blame them. Two of them were crazier than the third, baring themselves, throwing a ball around,
making lots of noise, and being rude to people. One of those two wanted to arm wrestle with me. I won (of
I realized after I went home that I had been off by a day and I thought that today was the 1st rather than the 2nd. I felt really bad because that meant I wouldn't be able to meet those girls on Friday. I didn't care that I couldn't go out with them, but I wouldn't be able to tell them about my mistake, so unless I happened to run into them again, I'd have to stand them up! I felt really bad about that! In addition, I had something to do on the 3rd, which meant I wouldn't be able to go out with that other girl either. The mistake was unbelievable. Damn it!
Well, I was off to Kushiro again. I wanted to spend time looking for those girls so I could tell them about my mistake. I hoped I could find them, so I wouldn't have to stand them up. While I was walking to the station, the wind was so strong that I had to attempt to walk diagonally in order to go straight! I had never been in such strong wind! Later, there was a pretty strong earthquake that lasted a good 10 seconds or so.
I saw socks with toes in Japan. They look absolutely ridiculous, but they're probably much warmer. They might even be more comfortable, like gloves are compared to mittens.
There are tons of cabarets in Japan. Blocks containing literally a hundred of them are a common sight. These are places where men go and pay lots of money to have women give them varying degrees of affection. According to Tomomi, even junior high school and elementary school kids watch porn, read dirty magazines, and have sex (in the case of junior high students). Not only that, but the kids who don't are by far the exception. I was shocked to hear it! It's terrible!
Anyway, I went to talk to the one girl I had met yesterday. She looked pretty, all dressed up. It was too bad I had to cancel with her. Anyway, since she had insisted adamantly that the previous day was Monday when in fact it was Tuesday, I used that as my excuse as to why I had to cancel. She looked sad and embarrassed, and didn't want to reschedule. I guess I can't blame her.
Later, I met Tomomi and we went to have sushi. Hokkaido is famous for its seafood, and this was definitely the best sushi I'd ever had. We ate as much as we wanted, without regard to the price, and it was really good. It was a bit expensive, though. After that, we went to do karaoke, which was surprisingly cheap (only 100 yen [$1] per hour per person). We were only going to sing for an hour, but it was so fun that we bought a second. Eating sushi and doing karaoke were two things I wanted to do before I left.
Today is my last full day here in Hokkaido. I feel sad that I've met so many people but will likely never see any of them again.
Tonight is probably the coldest night of all, too. When I got some food out of my bag, it was frozen! Not only was it below zero, but the wind was extremely strong. The combination just seemed to drain the life right out of me. Also, I couldn't find my gloves that morning.
I didn't see anybody I knew while I was in Kushiro. In particular, I wasn't able to find those girls. I felt really bad about standing them up. It's so rude.
After arriving at Haneda airport, I was stunned by the enormous number of pretty girls. The airport was
absolutely full of them! Maybe it was just the school uniforms, and maybe they were all going on a school trip or
something, but I must say that I felt a bit cheerier after that.
After arriving at the youth hostel in Iidabashi, I showered and left to get something to eat. On a recommendation from a friend, I decided to check out Shinjuku. I could take a train 95% of the way for 150 yen, but the last 5% cost an additional 130 yen, so I decided to walk the rest of the way. Actually, I had no idea how to get from Yoyogi to Shinjuku on foot, but I set out in a completely random direction and it happened to be the right one. Talk about luck!
What I saw when I got there was absolutely incredible -- by far the most shocking thing I'd seen on my trip so far. And it's nearly impossible to portray in words, but there was an incredible number of people! There were so many people that the street could be described as a river of people. They were like ants, all running this way and that. Huge swarms of them! I walked around in shock, with my jaw open, for about an hour.
While I was walking, a pretty woman picked me out of the crowd and tried to convince me to have a massage. I could get a normal massage for 6,000 yen or some kind of special massage (I didn't quite understand the details, but I could guess) for 10,000 yen. I had to decline. I'm not going to spend 10,000 yen (or even 6,000) on a massage, no matter how special!
Eventually, I returned to the youth hostel. Since the maximum stay there is three days, I had to find another hotel to stay in -- someplace cheap. But some old British guy was hogging the computer!
There were way too many westerners in Tokyo. I could see about one per minute while walking around. Nobody was
excited to see me. I didn't feel special anymore!
Well, I started to call around, looking for hotels. I tried to speak Japanese, but invariably, they would just speak to me in English. The second place I called sounded good, and very inexpensive! I later found out that I had misunderstood the pricing scheme (though I fault their poor English), and it was more expensive than I'd thought. It's located in Akasaka.
While I was looking at a map to find my hotel, an Asian women approached me and asked, in broken English, "Can you speak English?". At first glance, I assumed she was Japanese and wanted to practice her English or something. But she didn't look Japanese. It turned out that she was Chinese and it was her first day in Tokyo. She couldn't speak Japanese and she couldn't find her way around. She wanted to go shopping. So, I took her to Ginza and gave her some instructions for getting back. I took a picture of her as I was leaving (shown to the left).
I then returned myself. My ankle was really starting to hurt from walking so far while carrying four bags yesterday, and all the walking around today this day wasn't helping. So after returning to Iidabashi, I asked some schoolgirls (junior high must have just gotten out) where I could sit and kill some time (until 3:00 when the youth hostel would reopen). They pointed down a street and said there was a Denny's. So I headed off in that direction.
Anyway, I chatted with a couple of junior high school students who were sitting next to me in Denny's. The food was very different than at Denny's restaurants back in San Diego. Most dishes contained seafood and were quite Japanese, and there wasn't not a single small, greasy, overcooked steak in sight. Or any kind of steak for that matter. But I suppose it's similar to the Americanization of most Asian dishes. The food from Denny's turned out to be good, but expensive. I'd heard that in Japan, even McDonald's has good food (now that'd be something!). But then, at $5 per burger, they'd better!
When 3:00 rolled around, I retrieved my bags from the youth hostel. To get from Iidabashi to Akasaka, I had to take the subway. Since I didn't take the most efficient route, it involved a tremendous amount of walking (over a mile, I think). With bags in both hands, and one around my neck, it was awful. My ankle was in a lot of pain after that. After finding the hotel, I dropped off my bags and showered. They had rules regarding showering and bathing. Basically, I had to wash myself in the Japanese style since they didn't really have a Western-style shower.
I decided to entertain myself in Shinjuku. On the way, I made a dinner out of a trip to the convenience store and a fruit store. I went to Starbucks to have a drink and happened to run into a woman who had also been staying at the youth hostel. She had shown me how to get to Yahoo cafe in Omote-sandou, where I could check email and access the internet. She spoke English well, her thick British accent notwithstanding, and we talked until Starbucks closed, which was earlier than I thought it'd be -- 11:00. I thought places were open until 2:00 or 3:00, but apparently most places close around 10:00, and it's mainly just the bars that are open late.
After hanging around in Shinjuku that night, I had started to get a feel for just how exclusionist the Japanese living in Tokyo are. It was very off-putting, so I headed back to the hotel to sleep. The woman I was talking to, however, had told me that the subway would run until 1:00, so I didn't hurry. The station was huge, and I had a hard time finding my way. I tried asking a number of people where I should go, but few people had even the courtesy to acknowledge my presence, and those that did just motioned for me to go away. I was being polite and even speaking in Japanese. I eventually found my way by myself, but it was too late. The last train had left at midnight, just a few seconds before I arrived.
I don't feel that Japanese people in Tokyo are friendly at all. Sure, they're polite, but it seems to me like a forced, socially imposed politeness. And politeness doesn't imply friendliness. They can politely act like assholes, and do.
Anyway, now I'm stuck here at the station with all the homeless people. I didn't see any homeless people in the 20+ days I was in Hokkaido, but there seem to be some here in Tokyo. Interestingly enough, though, they don't beg for money. In fact, I've seen many of them doing work, so I guess that although they don't have a home, they still earn their keep in life, which is respectable. As a social experiment, I waited until everyone had left the station, including the guards, to see if anybody would say anything or offer assistance. Of hundreds of people, nobody did. I considered staying at the station, but it was too cold. The homeless all have things to sleep on. Besides, this one drunk, homeless guy kept pestering me, so I eventually left just to get away from him.
I didn't want to take a taxi because it'd be way too expensive, but it was too late and too far to walk. So I took a taxi part of the way and walked the rest. On the way back, about 30 women came up to offer sex, for money of course. At first, it was interesting conversation. Then, it became a game to keep them going as long as possible, or to decline in creative ways, but eventually I just wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible. At one point, I stopped by a convenience store to look at my map, and a cute, young girl who was chatting with some guys nearby saw me and smiled. She looked nice, and I smiled back. Then she offered me her "services", and I felt so disgusted. I gave her a look that I imagine was awful, and walked away. Finally, at 3:30AM, I made it back. The only people who bothered talking to me were selling sex, and they were only talking to me because they thought I might give them money, Not because they actually wanted to talk with me or anything. Tokyo really disgusted me.
Here are some pictures of the capsules I had to sleep in. They weren't so bad, actually. I'd even go so far as to say that they were comfortable, except that I couldn't stretch out. Each had a TV, radio, and alarm clock. The most annoying thing, though, was that I had to change capsules and lockers every night.
After some consideration, I made the following observations:
- It's not all their fault. While the automatic assumption that I'm solely seeking sex, which ensures that those selling it flock to me, and those who aren't avoid me like the plague, is extremely annoying, it might actually be a valid assumption. I'd heard a lot of westerners discussing/bragging about their exploits with the women here, how to get them drunk, etc. In fact, most of the conversations I'd overheard between western guys were of that nature.
- Due to the extreme exclusionist nature of the Japanese, especially those in Tokyo, it seems to be a society you need to break into. I remember reading that without an introduction, many Japanese won't even respond to you at all (if you're a westerner, and male especially). I didn't believe that could be true, and it wasn't my experience in Hokkaido, but in Tokyo, it really is! Given that the Japanese generally consider foreigners to be somehow inferior, in order to break in, you need to either find a sympathizer (more difficult than it may seem), or go after them when they have lowered inhibitions. Since many Japanese in Tokyo like to get drunk on an almost daily basis, there's a chance that if I go get drunk, too, I might break in. I guess if I was there long enough, life might be almost normal, sometimes.
I figured I'd escape to Ueno. I'd read that it's pretty there, and I thought I could escape all those damn people. It turned out, though, that they're impossible to avoid. It's as though all of Tokyo is Disneyland on a weekend. So I just went to get some food. The Japanese are willing enough to deal with me if they get money out of it. One interesting thing I saw in Ueno, though, was the traffic lights. They actually had lit progress bars that showed how long you had to wait until the light would change, or until you'd be able to cross the street. It's a cool idea.
I also bought a bag of roasted chestnuts, something I'd never tried. I would have preferred to have paid less and gotten less, but it was the smallest bag I could buy. They were good, but I ended up throwing two thirds of them away because I'd gotten sick of them. I went to Starbucks so I could sit down (my ankle still hurt a lot), and maybe chat with people, too. It seemed that everyone was in too much of a hurry to chat, so I just studied Japanese for an hour or two and had some coffee. I found myself wishing I was back in Hokkaido where people are friendly.
I wanted to sit somewhere and eat dinner, so I went to Iidabashi and ate at Denny's again. While there, I wrote a letter and then returned to Akasaka by subway. That involved walking over 1000 meters, because that part of Iidabashi is not near a subway line. While I was walking from the subway back to the hotel, women were running up to me again trying to sell me sex. I dismissed them as quickly as I could.
Well, the Japanese in Tokyo may not be nearly as nice as those as Hokkaido, but I decided that I couldn't let a few assholes (or even a lot of assholes) stop me. But the first person I tried to talk to, a young guy who was studying foreign language, only let me get two words out before rudely grimacing, waving me away, and putting on a pair of headphones. This is the thing I have to deal with when I talk to half of the people. The other half are, instead of being outright unfriendly, just politely unfriendly.
While walking, I saw this incredible cake shop (incredibly expensive, too). They had so many great-looking cakes (I've never seen so much good stuff at one place) that it was difficult to decide. Eventually, I got some berry cream pie. Just a slice, though, the whole thing was about $60. I was walking down the street with it in a box. There was no place to sit and eat, and with each step I was increasingly tempted. After almost ten minutes of walking, looking for a place to sit, I just crouched down near a bike rack off to the side of the walk and dug into it, making a mess of myself in the process, but it was excellent. I cleaned myself up as best I could and continued on my way.
That's another gripe I have about Tokyo, though. There's no place to just sit. Of course there are shops and restaurants, but you need to buy something if you want to sit there. I wonder if they do that on purpose to dissuade homeless people from sleeping out in the open.
From where I was, I just kept walking, and wound up in Shibuya. It's incredibly crowded! It might even be more crowded than Shinjuku! I wanted to take a picture to show how crowded it was, so I took the first one (on the right), but it didn't cut it. So I took the next one. It's also really bright, as shown in the third picture. I didn't find anything that I wanted to do alone, though, or anybody to do things with, and after walking around for a few hours, I returned to Akasaka.
I didn't want to sleep, though, so I went into Jonathan's (a competitor of Denny's') to escape all the girls running over to ask me if I want their services. It was the same girls as the previous night, too. Apparently they don't remember that I always say "no". I had some gomadango. They're little balls covered with sesame seeds, with black, runny fluid inside. They're hot, too, and turned out to be pretty good. In Japan, the number of kilocalories and grams of fat are displayed next to every item on every menu. I read that the FDA wanted to do that, but they instead decided to accept money from the food industry to forego that plan. That's America for you, where corporate interests rule.
I returned to Yahoo cafe to upload my pictures, so I could take more. I finally met a nice person. Turned out she was from California though, haha, figures. While I was there, I wrote two letters. Many people still don't even acknowledge my presence, and most of those who do are rude. It's really disheartening. I went out to eat, and felt like having some "normal" food, so I went to a Hawaiian hamburger joint. Good stuff. I wasn't sure what to do after eating. It'd been literally days since I'd had a good conversation with anybody, and the social exclusion was really getting to me. I wanted to call Rouko, but I didn't have her phone number with me.
Though it was only 6:00, I returned to the hotel and got in bed. I flipped through the TV channels. Turns out that F-Zero is an anime. I wondered whether it came before or after the video game. Eventually I got bored and walked around outside. I went into an arcade, and saw another thing I didn't expect but probably should have -- porn video games. I think they work like interactive movies. I'm not sure what the level of interactivity is, but I suspect it's hard to lose (as long as you keep putting in more money). They seem to have modes for all kinds of fantasies and fetishes. Weird stuff.
It was probably 9:00 by this time. One woman, obviously drunk, came up to talk to me. I waited for the sales pitch. Eventually it came. Seems that she just sells conversation. Though I hadn't had a good conversation with anyone in a long time, I declined her offer because I wouldn't be willing to pay for it. As professional talkers, though, they can be pretty convincing! At the end, she gave me some candy. That's another curious thing about Japan. People just give away food and candy. When I said my goodbyes to some of the people I'd met in Hokkaido, they gave me food and/or candy, too.
To pass more time, I got some more coffee and gomadango. Next to me were some of those Indian programming-job-stealing bastards. As I sat there, they were plotting how they could steal more jobs! As they were getting up to go, I told them not to steal mine. They laughed and left. I really wanted to leave Tokyo as soon as possible. I'd have left that night if I was able.
I still wasn't tired enough to go to bed yet, but I went outside to go back to the hotel. Of course, a girl ran up to me... I got the idea of amusing myself by chatting with them. They'll keep talking as long as they think you might actually pay them. I managed to keep one going for 45 minutes before it became clear that I wasn't going to give her any cash. Just goes to show how lame this is turning out to be, but it was amusing, and provided some interesting insight into a subculture of which I wasn't deeply aware. I'm certain I'd be having a better time if I hadn't gone to Japan alone. Then, I'd have somebody to talk to and do things with.
I had to do my laundry today, so I began a long trek to find a laundromat. I found one, finally, after asking a policeman (they're very helpful), and walking a long way. While my clothes were drying, I made some more phone calls back to the US. My phone card had only 10 minutes' worth of time left, but that bit of friendly conversation did a lot to keep me sane.
After my laundry was done, I decided to try going to Roppongi, because I'd never been there before, and the people there must be used to having westerners around, I thought. It was terrible, though. There were more foreigners than I expected, but what was even worse, there were their damn progeny as well. There was more written English than Japanese, and the stores had things labelled in English, with Japanese as the minor language. I got the impression that the people there cared nothing about Japanese society or culture, and integrating into it. After only 90 minutes, I was ready to get out of there.
I went back to the Yahoo cafe to check my email, and stayed there until 10:30 or so before returning to Akasaka. With four days left in Tokyo, I hoped to do at least one fun thing before it was time to leave. While I was looking for a place to have dinner, I passed a vendor selling some kind of peanut snack (peanuts breaded with some kind of cake). I tasted one and it was really good, but I didn't want to eat them before dinner. I asked when she closed, but she didn't understand Japanese. She didn't understand English, either. She was Korean. It turned out that there were many Koreans in Akasaka.
I remembered how delicious the sushi I had in Hokkaido was, so for dinner I went to a random sushi place. It wasn't very good, though, in comparison to what I had in Hokkaido. I suspect that even among Tokyo sushi restaurants, it wasn't very good. But it wasn't bad, either! After dinner, I went back to get some of those peanut things. They were pretty tasty, and since I didn't want to eat the entire bag, I even gave some to the street girls that came up to me.
After chatting with some Koreans, I met an American. We talked and laughed a lot. He was friendly, and had said that he was also surprised how Japanese people wouldn't talk to him at all, would outright ignore him, etc. He seemed like a really outgoing, friendly guy to me, too. I was glad to know I wasn't the only one having those problems. After he left, I stayed and talked with the Koreans some more. The Korean and Chinese immigrants living in Akasaka turned out to be much, much friendlier than the Japanese. I actually made some Korean and Chinese friends before the trip was over.
As I spoke more with the girls on the street, I learned more about that subculture. Most of the ones coming up to me were Korean and Chinese. The prettier Japanese girls catered solely to Japanese men. Some girls sold themselves, and others worked in pairs or groups, with the more beautiful/charismatic girl fetching the guys, and the less attractive/moral girls doing the dirty work. I developed rapport with some of the fetchers, specifically, the ones that didn't sell themselves. I didn't care to get to know the other girls, but I'd talk to them as long as I could string them along, since it was better than trying to talk to regular Japanese people, or moping around in the hotel. I was giving one of the fetchers tips on how to better attract guys. I could even say that I had fun.
It was rainy all day and night today. I went to the internet cafe and checked my email, etc. I'd basically given up on talking to Japanese people by that point, and since I was alone, I didn't really feel like doing much. I returned to Denny's in Iidabashi because they had a delicious fruit dessert that I wanted to buy again. Afterwards, I called Rouko, but she didn't have any free time to meet me before I was to leave Japan.
Not having anybody to do anything with, I decided to go to a movie. On the way to Ginza, the train was so packed that it was insane. The people were literally filling the entire volume of the train car. It was absolutely unbelievable! I had left my camera behind because I didn't expect to need it while watching the movie. It's too bad because it would have made a great picture. I missed one train because it was so full that I didn't even try to get on. The next train was just as full. I got in, but there was so little room that the door shut on my jacket, trapping me there. It took a while to get my jacket out of the door so that I could get off the train.
I went to a three-story theater (Incidentally, it was the building that I dropped that Chinese girl off at. You can see it in the picture), but neither "The Matrix: Revolutions" (an awful movie, I later discovered) nor "LOTR: Return of the King" was playing. For some reason it takes a long time for movies to make it from America to Japan -- a lot longer than would be expected even considering that they have to dub or subtitle them. "The Last Samurai" was playing, though, so I figured I'd see that. While waiting for the show time, I got some blueberry cake.
After waiting 30 minutes in a room with smokers, I went back downstairs. It seems I had misread the sign (it was certainly nonintuitive), and had missed the last showing. I left, unhappy. While walking back, I passed a Yoshinoya, and ate dinner there, again on recommendation. I know the Japanese eat relatively fatty meats, but this was the worst. It was a bowl of rice covered by a layer of beef fat (well, there might have been two or three molecules of beef in there). The taste actually wasn't all that bad, but afterwards I found myself shuddering at the thought of having eaten it. I tried to justify it to myself by figuring that it wasn't much worse than eating a bunch of bacon, but I still felt gross whenever I saw a Yoshinoya sign. After that, I returned to Akasaka. On the way back, I saw the stereotypical older Japanese man, looking at porn on the train. When I got there, I spent some time talking with some Koreans for a while since they were always friendly.
I went to the internet cafe again today. The guy at the desk remembered my name. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. There was an American woman there with a kid. The kid was so whiny and undisciplined that it was embarrassing to share the same nationality.
I tried to talk with some Japanese people here, but they mostly just ignored me. I had almost gotten used to it by then, since it happened constantly, but that doesn't mean it wasn't still annoying and discouraging. I just went and studied Japanese for an hour or two by myself after that.
With time left to do one more thing, I decided to visit Musashi-koyama. It's the hometown of a friend from San Diego, and he'd asked me to check it out if I had time. My first impression of the place was that it seemed old. The buildings actually reminded me of buildings in old western movies (though they didn't really look like them). My second impression was that the place was small. To escape the rain, I headed towards a large, covered market. Probably 500 meters in length, it seemed like the shopping center of the town. After walking from one end to the other, which took about 10 minutes, the only westerners I'd seen were in advertisements. For that reason alone, I was starting to like the place. I don't know if the people are actually friendly, but I didn't feel the atmosphere of antipathy towards westerners that pervades the more densely populated areas of Tokyo. I went to a bread shop and bought some good bread, which I had for dessert.
I'm sure it sounds incongruous for me to talk about disliking westerners in Japan while at the same time complaining about the Japanese doing the same. I don't mind westerners per se, but I dislike the ones that are in Tokyo solely to have a good time, without care for the culture or the social consequences of their actions. And it seemed like many if not most of the young western males I saw fell into that category.
After walking around for several hours, I didn't see any other foreigners (in fact, I didn't see any until I got back to Hibiya). The air seemed cleaner, too. I almost felt like I was back in Hokkaido. While they weren't unfriendly, the people weren't really friendly, either. After all, they still lived in Tokyo, and probably spent much of their time in the metropolitan areas, for business, entertainment, or both.
Finding my way back was pretty complicated, involving small, private subway lines and lots of transfers. After getting back, I spent a few hours chatting and making friends with Koreans. They were nice, as usual. I also talked with one of the fetchers for a bit, but mama-san came over to yell at her for slacking off. It was kind of amusing. What can I call those mana-sans? Pimpettes? Pimptresses?
I was talking with a Japanese businessman in the hotel. He was clearly inebriated, to the point where he was having trouble finding his locker. He didn't seem unfriendly, but I was pretty sure that if he wasn't so drunk, and if I hadn't helped him find his locker, he wouldn't have spoken with me.
Well, my trip ends in two days and I haven't done the typical tourist things yet. I decided to go to Asakusa today, but since I got up late, by the time I arrived, the sun was already beginning to set. So the light wasn't good for taking pictures, but I did my best.
Here are some basic pictures of the Houzoumon gate and parts of the Sensouji temple behind it.
This next photographs are of the joukoro, a type of incense burner. People traditionally go up to it and, after
bowing, waft the smoke onto themselves for healing and improving their body. I have my doubts about its
effectiveness, but then, the placebo effect is quite powerful.
People drink out of this fountain for purification, I think. You're supposed to fill a ladle with water, and
rinse both hands. Then pour some water into a cupped hand, rinse your mouth with it, and spit the water out on the
ground beside the fountain. You're not supposed to swallow it, and definitely not supposed to transfer the water
from the ladle directly to your mouth. Unfortunately, I didn't know these details, so I totally botched the
process. Oh well
These pictures are from inside the temple. I turned off the flash so I wouldn't disturb the people who were praying there. The pictures might be blurry, as I had to focus the camera manually.
There was a building off to the side as well. It looks like another shrine or temple, but I'm not quite sure what it's for, and I didn't go inside.
Here are some miscellaneous pictures. The first picture is the view from the temple back towards the gate. The next two pictures are top secret photos of a Japanese nazi training camp that I found. The next picture is of a gate beyond which is the Tokyo metropolis. The rest of the photos excepting the last one are of some shrines and explanations of shrines. The final picture is of the street leading to the temple, with vendors as far as the eye can see. I didn't like it. They reminded me of vultures. And actually, the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol with a good meaning, and is often used on Buddhist temples, so it's probably not really a nazi training camp. Can't be too careful, though.
On the way back, I stopped at a Mister Donut (the first I'd seen in Tokyo). I was hoping to be reminded of Hokkaido, but the atmosphere was totally different. One short girl was wearing these laughable shoes shown to the right. I called a Chinese friend I'd met and made a plan to go out the next day.
While walking the streets of Akasaka, I ran into an Italian guy and said "hi". He asked if I was Italian as well,
and I said "partly". We talked for about a minute, and a couple of Chinese people walked up. I'm not sure if he knew
them, but I suspect so. He said that he owned a restaurant nearby and invited us all to eat there. So we all went to
the restaurant and ordered some pizza and beer. It seems like that dish is renowned worldwide.
While I was walking back towards the hotel, I saw on the ground a booklet called "H&H". Inside were advertisements for extremely beautiful women, with prices of $200-$1000 per hour. And for Japanese men only, I think. I'm not sure anybody'd be worth that price, though!
I went over to chat for a bit with some of the Koreans I knew. The peanut snack vendor was there, too. At one point, she left and took a break. So I took over the station and was selling peanuts on the street for a bit, yelling things like "irasshaimase!" and "oajimi douzo!". This was an improvement since she never spoke while on the job (she doesn't speak Japanese). It was kind of fun. About 30 minutes later, I returned to the hotel and went to bed.
Well, it's my last free day here in Japan. I decided to try going to Ueno again. Since it was a bit earlier in the day, I figured I'd be able to see a lot more before it got dark. After trying unsuccessfully to phone anybody back in the US, I set out.
There are a number of homeless people living in Ueno park. They seem to support themselves by drawing, painting, or making things for tourists. Some are really quite talented. After looking at a map, I decided to go out on the lake. I didn't want to rent a boat, but there's a bridge that goes to an old man-made island in the center of the lake.
The first picture is of the bridge leading to the island, as seen from the island. The next picture is of some monument. I suspect there's something preserved inside that container, and I really wonder what it might be. The third and fourth pictures are views of the Tokyo cityscape from the island with the lake, overgrown with plant life, in the foreground.
On the island in the middle of the lake is another shine of some sort. Visible in the first picture are the joukoro and the purification fountain. A woman stopped to waft some smoke onto her baby, probably to keep it healthy. According to the explanation in the third picture, the island was made about 400 years ago. The remaining pictures are of some of the surrounding monuments and features. In general, I wasn't sure what they were for.
On the way back from the island, I bought some yakisoba from a vendor on the bridge. I generally like soba (in fact, while in Tokyo, I ate it for breakfast most days), but this was disappointing. So I bought a chocolate-dipped banana. It was also disappointing, because it was warm. Oh well. After returning to the mainland and walking a bit more, I stumbled onto this interesting-looking path. I decided to follow it. Down the path there were, big surprise, more temples and shrines and whatnot.
In addition to the religious monuments, there was also a group of people practicing archery and other fighting arts. From left to right: archers at a distance, some students (and possibly a teacher?), and a class in progress.
There were other monuments in the park. Again, it wasn't obvious to me what they were exactly. I saw a spire on top of a small hill and climbed the hill to see what it was. It was a pagoda of some sort, but I only knew because that's what the katakana on the sign says.
Continuing down the other side of the hill, I came upon a part of the park which was practically vacated. Finally
escaping the throngs of tourists, and listening to the gentle rustle of the leaves, the place felt profoundly peaceful.
After forging ahead, I came upon Yet Another Temple. I'm sure this area is of great religious, historical, and cultural significance, but being largely ignorant of those things as they relate to Japan, and not being able to read all the complicated kanji, they held little value for me. I would have really liked to have gone with somebody who could explain some of the things to me. Briefly, the pictures are views from the gates and paths leading to the shrine, explanations of the shrine and the copper lanterns you can see lining the path, a tall spire, the shrine itself, a temple guardian, and the view from the shrine, looking back.
Surrounding the shrine, though, were some interesting monuments. The first is a World War II monument and its description. The second was much more interesting to me, however. While it looks like just a bunch of old, colored cloth hung around a peace symbol (the dove), upon closer examination, it's actually a thousand folded paper cranes. Supposedly, if you fold one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant you a wish. Speaking of wishes, the final picture is of a board onto which are hung at least a hundred wishes.
It began to get dark, so I headed back to the Yahoo cafe in Omote-sandou to pass the rest of my time. In Japan (or Tokyo at least), they have some incredible internet connections available. 1.5 mbps upstream and 40 mbps downstream, for less than $30 per month. Home networks are commonly 100mbps ethernet or fiber optic. I want!
I got up a bit late and had forgotten how difficult it was to walk while carrying all my luggage, so I was cutting this really close. Having to lug all my bags around and walk long distances, it took over 2 hours to get to and into Narita airport. I thought I was very lucky, though. I caught the Skyliner with only a couple minutes to spare, and they only have one every 30-40 minutes.
I should have known, though. Though I tried to check in at the airport about 30 minutes before my plane was to take off, baggage needs to be checked long before that. So, while I wasn't too late to board the flight, it was too late to check my bags. As expected, the American airline (United) wanted an incredibly high fee to change the ticket to a later flight -- about $1100! The ticket itself was only $700, round trip, so if I assume $350 each way, the fee for adjusting the departure time was over 400% of the cost of the actual ticket. Alternately, I could take a Japanese airline, which wouldn't charge me to change the departure time, but didn't have any more flights for the day. My original return ticket was with United, too!
There was no way I could afford to pay $1100, so I went with the Japanese airline. So it looked like I'd be there for another day! I booked a room at ANA hotel at a rate of $110 for the night. Since the restaurants at the hotel cost $35-$60 per meal, I took a bus to town to find my dinner and managed to find some good food at a good price. I lounged around in a Starbucks playing GBA for a couple hours before returning to the hotel. I didn't play FFTA the entire time I was in Tokyo, so it was nice to relax in a comfortable chair with some steamed milk and the GBA.
When I left the hotel the next morning, I felt terrible. I didn't sleep well at all the night before, and since the hotel was so expensive, I didn't eat breakfast there. It was almost 2 hours before I was able to settle down and eat something, and I was pretty tired already. I couldn't sleep at all during the 10 hour flight to San Francisco, either, because again I'm not good at sleeping while sitting up.
When I arrived, I was so tired that I nearly couldn't walk or talk even. And then I had to deal with US Customs. It was an awful experience, with incompetence and bad attitudes rife among the airport staff. In contrast to Japan, it was especially repugnant. I called a family member to relay the message that my arrival time had changed. I had to put $2 in quarters into the phone for three minutes of in-state phone time. And the phone didn't even work. Nor would it return my money. So I had to get another $2 and go to another phone. After doing that, I ate something, hoping that it'd wake me up a bit, but it didn't help at all. Plus I had gotten really used to not tipping, and I really didn't particularly want to start again.
Finally, I sat down to wait for my flight. Since I had to wait a few hours, I wanted to drift off to sleep, but I was sure that somebody would steal my camera or I'd be reported for not watching my bags. I considered sleeping in the bathroom, but it seemed like it'd be too uncomfortable. I didn't want to risk missing my flight, anyway. Sitting was very boring though, so to keep my mind occupied, I tried walking around. After stumbling into a bookstore, I was shocked enough to exclaim, out loud, "Wow, English!". Then I was shocked at how shocked I had been.
I found myself bowing to people in the airport, which amused me. Even at the time of this writing, over six months after my trip, I still find myself bowing to people almost every time I go out. It probably looks ridiculous, but it's a nice reminder of my trip. It's funny how quickly I developed the habit while I was there, and how persistent it's been.
I quickly become bored with the shops and returned to the waiting room. For the remaining hour or so, I just watched people. Incompetence among the airport staff was an everpresent sight, as were obese people. Though she wasn't even half as bad as the worst people I saw, I took a picture of the woman sitting across from me. This might be partially attributable to crankiness from being tired, but between the gross incompetence, the broken and expensive telephones, the bad attitudes the security guards exuded, and other societal problems I was generally aware of (lack of personal responsibility, poor government, apathy, high crime [especially violent crime] rate), I felt repulsed by American society. It certainly stood in stark contrast to Japanese society. Japan has its own problems, too: racism, sexual depravity, etc. But I felt that our society is quite far from ideal.
Jet lag from going to Japan was a great boon, but the lag from coming back was just the opposite. It was terrible! I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation, so I took a couple more days off before returning to work.
I took almost two hundred pictures while I was in Japan. I really regret not taking more pictures of the people I interacted with, though. I didn't take so many while I was in Hokkaido and during the first half of my time in Tokyo because I didn't have an easy way to upload the pictures to my server, nor did I even anticipate being able to. Since I wanted to make the space on my memory cards last the entire trip, I was hesitant to take many pictures. Of the photos I didn't discard, I showed about 90 here. The rest can be found in this directory.