But the TV here is actually pretty cool. Not that I understand much, but it’s still zarking hilarious. Right now there’s this travel / food program segment (picture Pilot Guides in Japanese, but looking more like a game show), and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic narratress is travelling through Italy, narrating and talking to the camera in Japanese of course, but also talking to people in a Italian-Japanese blend. The Italian people, naturally, just talk back to her in Italian. It’s hilarious!
So it’s official. If I need a pick-up, I’m just going to turn on the TV. Don’t even ask about the ads, they’re too funnyweird to describe right now. Everything has a jingle set to tunes like, “If You’re Happy And You Know It…” I do have a Slingbox ready for when I get internet, but I don’t think I’ll be using it as compulsively as I may have envisioned, though it will be good for sports (such as HNIC and NHL playoff games – but stuff on North American Sunday nights won’t work because we’ll be at work on our Japanese Monday morning!).
The weather here? Gorgeous! A tad windy, but gorgeous! I feel more rested now, and as I unpack the last of my things (yeah), I feel more focussed on what I came here to do rather than on the difficulties. It’ll be okay. Keep that in mind as you read the next couple of posts. =)
January 2nd, 3rd
4. Osaka to Tokushima
We left off with me almost losing my change when I was at the expressway bus stand. (It’s only thanks to that kind lady that I didn’t.) I had been having, overall, a rough journey, I was shockingly fatigued and running only on adrenaline, and I wasn’t sure what to expect next. Mercifully, the bus was motorcoach-style, with lots of room for baggage below the passenger level, and the airport staff loaded it for me. The bus was actually run by the airport, too. Bang on time, we were off.
I can’t believe I’m still in one piece. What a trip this has been!
I’m on a bus from Osaka Itami to Kobe, where I’ll overnight in a hotel, courtesy S.G.. I just watched an elderly airport employee shout (I assume) that this bus was about to depart – okay, scratch that, we’re just at the other platform now. Anyway, he shouts that we’re leaving, and at the very turn of the minute to 7:55pm, he waves to the driver, the driver guns the engine, and then this dispatcher takes a deep bow – like he formed a right angle and then some – and off we go. That was cool.
And now we’re on an elevated expressway. Wow… everything is so cute, consistent, and whee. This was so easy, too. If only intercity transit were like this in the Maritimes.
* * *
(Written January 6th)
After an exhilarating bus ride (I’m a bit of a road geek, so I get huge thrills out of things that most folks wouldn’t even notice), we arrived in Kobe.
I am getting ahead of myself here, but let’s just say that the folks who created the Japanese – Latin transliteration system didn’t have Maritimers in mind when they made it. If they did, Japanese places and words would be written like this:
Counting? That would be easier, too: Itchy, Nee, Sun…
* - It’s kind of like, “The Knights Who Say You-Know-What.”
So please remember that it’s Koh-bay, not Ko-bee. Because I didn’t.
Okay, so I’m on the sidewalk in Kobe with my enormous pile of stuff. R. gave me a map of the area around the bus stop which indicated the hotel I was staying at (“Toyoko Inn,”) and some other landmark businesses that occupied the great towers around me.
After orienting myself, I began the long and arduous journey to the other side of the street. I’ve still got these two 50+ pound suitcases (with wheels, mercifully), my computer, my duffel bag, and my backpack, and underneath it all I’m wearing my winter coat so I’m becoming a sweaty mess. Anyway, after an hour I cross the street. Okay, I am slightly exaggerating, but when you’re in agony pulling this junk around, everything feels like it takes hours. I tried not to think about the days that the stress was no doubt subtracting from my life.
After just two hellish street crossings, I find the Tokyu Inn! Great! That was fast; I thought I had to go a few more blocks. The first set of glass doors weren’t automatic, so I had to sort of bang my way in. Very awkward. But the second set opened for me, and as I ambled my way to the front desk I thought, Wow, what a nice place!
The woman at the desk greeted me in English, and asked if I had a reservation. So I explained that I had one made for me by S.G..
That stopped her. She asked to see the little folded map I had in my hand.
“No, no, this is Tokyu Inn.”
“You are going to Toyoko Inn.” Her next statement basically boiled down to, ‘keep going.’
One very embarrassing retreat and another bang through the doors later, I was back pounding pavement again. I made another turn and after an eternity plus one, I came to the Toyoko Inn. Thankfully, these doors opened for me. I dragged myself inside.
Checking in wasn’t hard, but I regret blurting “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese,” to the desk manager who initially tried to serve me in Japanese. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even consider making an effort to communicate. I can rationalize that I was exhausted, in pain, and probably hungry, and I just wanted to either get my room or be mortally struck by lightning so that I could fall over and die and, one way or another, have an end to this ordeal, but the manager’s expression was pained, as if I had rebuked her. So that was my first serious faux pas of Japan, and, trust me, I was (and am) bound to have many more. I could rattle off the ones so far for you (that I know about!), but I’ll spare us both.
I took a tiny elevator that talked to me up to my room (I’m starting to realize how huge an influence Japan is on the writings of Douglas Adams). I open the door and drag my things in. I flip the light switch.
I flip another light switch.
I try the desk lamp.
I try the panel by the bathroom. Out of the darkness, I hear a fan start by one of the switches. But still no lights.
Huh. I flip open my cell phone and use its light to read the information slip I had been given. Oh, you’re supposed to put your key in the slot in the wall just in from the door? So that’s what that long, huge stick of a keybob was for. I stick the key in the slot and the lights spring to life.
So now what? I’d like to say that I was sashaying and cavorting around the room singing, “Japan, Japan, Japan!” but what I was really thinking about my present situation cannot be printed here. I wanted to bang my head against the wall repeatedly. Never before had I gone through so much embarrassment and adjustment in such a short time, and I didn’t even know at the time that I really hadn’t even started – Kobe seems like a lifetime ago as I write this. Still, the mental trauma was intense. In those moments I felt more alone than I had felt at any time since Ukraine.
I sighted a few books on a cute little shelf; the New Testament and some Teachings of Buddha. I chose the less dangerous and read something about it the biggest battle that one had to fight in life was the battle against oneself.
I put the book away and decided to force myself to have some interaction; I felt that I was at a small but important fork in the road. All I wanted to do was cower in my room until the next morning, but deep in my rational mind I knew that this would hurt me in the long run, and hurt my critical first impressions of Japan.
I had to call J. at S.G. anyway, and I was going to use the phone in my room and to heck with the charges, but instead I got out my Japanese phrasebook and prepared myself to use the free phone in the lobby. I went to the lobby, already feeling better and relieved not to be lugging my stuff that was now safely locked in my room. I summoned up the temerity to put on a smile and make some recipt-related inquiry of the desk manager – in English, but that wasn’t so much the point as it was important to just talk to someone – anyone! And then I found the free phone and called J.:
“J---- des ka?”
“Hai… [stuff I didn’t understand then]”
“Um… William des.”
The connection was terrible and after a moment I said I’d just call her from my room in five minutes. So I did that, and we talked about me getting an early bus tomorrow, and calling her before I depart with the arrival time.
After that I thought about how it was kind of good to get an overnight stay in Kobe before Tokushima. It would let me wash off my filth before being formally introduced, for one thing – I smelled bad. After spending eighteen hours in flight, you smell like an airplane lavatory.
I went to sleep.
At 4am I awoke.
Wha, where am I?
Oh, I'm in Japan.
I thought about the hours, the thousands of dollars and the broken promises that it would take to go home. I was in Japan, in Asia, with no way out. For a year.
But I got back to sleep. And in the morning, after a shower and some Engrish (“When you sit on the seat, automatically the cold water flow. Wait for "off" the lamp to wash.”), I felt better, like all my base had belonged to me.
I went down early for breakfast. It wasn’t bad; I did what everybody else was doing and managed okay. A very kind pregnant woman offered me a seat at her table; it was then that I realized that it was common (at least there) to sit and eat breakfast at the tables of strangers. I ate my rice, cabbage, and fishy soup, and I was later thankful to R. that she had taken us out to a Japanese restaurant in Halifax about a month before. Because of that, I wasn’t completely lost – solely due to that experience, I knew roughly what things were, and I knew how to use the chopsticks. After breakfast I went back to my room and tried out the internet until check-out time neared.
Check-out was an ordeal. Well, no, not the check-out itself: the two Japanese desk clerks dressed in yellow were cheery and bright enough to rival the Sun. I loved the actual check out. And the phone call from my room wound up costing only 70¥, or about 70¢. But the physical leaving was hard, because the entire population of Greater Kobe was leaving at the same time from this 13-story hotel with 2 very small elevators. I had only gotten up to my floor so easily last night because it was almost ten o’clock.
This time, I watched elevator after elevator come to my floor jam packed. There was just no way to get on with anything more than my backpack, and even that would have been uncomfortable for everyone. I waved off a dozen elevators, and even tried the special wheelchair call button, thinking that maybe that would summon an empty elevator, but nothing worked.
So I left my suitcases there, but took my backpack, duffel, and laptop and headed for the stairs. I heard good-natured laughter from behind me; we were on the seventh floor. I gingerly stepped down the stairs on the outside of the building, and then went in the lobby from the driveway. I set my duffel and backpack by the back wall of the lobby. Of course I kept my laptop slung over my shoulder; you can never leave your laptop, period.
I was going to go up the stairs again and then haul one suitcase down at a time, but then I realized that I could twist the mass exodus to my advantage. Being on the bottom floor and with nobody going up except me, I could ride to the seventh floor myself. Then I could grab a suitcase and get back in the elevator, which would eventually get back to the lobby with me still in it.
I had complete success my first trip, and it was sickly fun to whiz by floor after floor of people waiting for a down elevator. Gomennasai! My second trip was a failure, because someone got on at the seventh floor. But the third worked, and soon I had my humongous pile of things back in the lobby.
After ten minutes of figuring out how I was going to make the journey, I crawled out of the hotel, declined an offer from a cab driver (too short a trip, really, and it wouldn’t have made things any easier), and, at length, I reached the bus platform. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
The man at the platform tried to tell me I shouldn’t take the expressway bus (it wouldn’t have been one run by the airport this time). He kept saying I should take the J.R. bus. But it wasn’t clear where I would get that because his English and my Japanese are on the same order of magnitude. But I had to cross the street again anyway (argh) to use the payphone to call J..
I called J., and we had an extremely confusing conversation, and she was afraid I was freaking out. I kind of was. At one point she suggested going back to the hotel to find out where to go, and that made me want to moan in despair. No, that couldn’t be necessary, and so I struggled to explain where I was in relation to where I arrived (this would have been hard for anyone to interpret in any language!). But eventually we got our mutual messages across; the thing to do was to take a J.R. bus; I needed only to head to the bus terminal.
All that time, you see, I had been standing on the street right beside it.
So that was a laugh, and I went in there, set my things down again, and got a ticket to Tokushima. I went to the platform, then I left everything but my computer and went back to the phone to call J.. I would be, finally, on my way!
While I waited for the bus, I saw a dispatcher help an old lady; she stepped on the pavement to approach him, and he gingerly got her off the pavement and then answered all her questions. He’s another one of my heroes; I love to see people-facing workers being really good at their jobs – especially when it’s transportation-related. They just put in that little bit of grease that keeps the wheels of the country going around. On a more general note, J. told us that the McDonald’s in Japan now have smiles as a menu item, like this: “Smiles – ¥0”
After some cold minutes outside and warm minutes inside, the bus came. We had to put our cases on ourselves, but it wasn’t hard because there was lots of room. Then we got underway.
It was quite a drive from Kobe to Tokushima, and to narrate it all would be difficult. Kobe looked huge from the freeway during the day, and all the infrastructure things all over the place were that much more spectacular, too.
They build lots of tunnels for these expressways, too – one we went through was at least a few kilometres long! And the bridges – oh! And from these bridges you could see the water, the magnificent tree-topped hills, ships, and… wow wow wow. I even remember being impressed by potted flowers at one of the expressway-side stops, just before one of the huge bridges (I think the one from Honshu to Awajishima Island on the way to Shikoku).
The beauty of everything was stunning. I have a few pictures, but pictures from a moving bus almost never do a place much justice.
We got off the expressway just as we got onto Shikoku, in Naruto. I was first pleased with the new commercialness of everything, but then I realized that we were on a very very long… strip. Picture the Lower Sackville of Japan. I dreaded the bus stopping, and when it did stop, I dreaded that it was the last stop / my stop.
Fortunately, it was not; after a few river crossings, we reached the city of Tokushima proper, and it had a respectable downtown, thank goodness. I had been worried for a moment. I can see on one of my maps now that there is an expressway gap; the city of Matsushige sort of serves as a Japanese Breezewood between the Takamatsu / Kobe Awaju Naruto Expressways and the Tokushima Expressway.
Anyway, I like to say now that Shikoku is the Cape Breton of Japan; it’s the only major island without Nippon Professional Baseball, the only island without Shinkansen or at least plans to get it, and M. tells me it’s the only place that still runs diesel short-range commuter trains. (The commuter trains are not bad, though – it beats the heck out of taking the number 80 bus back in Halifax! And when we were at the downtown train station a few days later, I noticed some diesel-powered tilting trains – they can probably go at quite a good clip (perhaps 160 km/h, like the LRC in Canada? I’ll try and ask if I ever go on it), much faster than you could go by car.)
And I’m getting ahead of myself here, as you’ll see from the next posts, but the people are very friendly here, and it’s a good spot. In that sense, it’s definitely the Cape Breton of Japan.
[You know what might help culture shock? Matter transmission as a way of transportation. Were it not for the tyranny of geography, I’d like to think that we’d be at least a little bit closer together as a human community. Anyway, doing it this way is not bad either, but it’s kind of inefficient! You need more than a lifetime to see every culture!]
Tomorrow: First impressions in Tokushima, after getting into my apartment at S.G.