William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

98. (2.) The Pacific to Shinjuku

Written referring to notes taken Sunday, August 3rd.

I had a shower before going to bed, as the showers would close at 10 and wouldn’t reopen until 7. They were kickin’, but disused – the curtains were a bit moldy. I think it’s because most people go home or go to hotels after the ferry, and most have vehicles to whisk them away to such – I was one of only a few who signed up for the taxi. Too bad – taking a shower on a (gently!) rolling boat is an experience not to be missed.

The floor was hard, but I got myself to sleep, eventually using Stories of English as a pillow. It’s not that Stories is a boring book; it’s just that it’s a nice book to dip in and out of, so I end up taking it with me virtually every time that I want to have a book to read. I’ve found that it’s also just the perfect size for tucking in between my head and a floor, tatami mat, or other unforgiving sleeping surface.

I woke up several times during the abbreviated night, and I was already feeling a bit lonely – I didn’t have anyone to tell the time to, or to inform that we would be arriving in a few hours. (Such is the bread-and-butter of my conceit of importance. But it was the tit-for-tat I was missing, not just my own, exclusive satisfaction.) I hadn’t really spoken with anyone since I boarded.

We arrived in Tokyo under beautiful morning sunshine, and the five of us who would be taking the taxi waited on board for about an hour after everyone else disembarked. From the ship, I could see that the ferry terminal was huge – it resembled a small airport’s, but with more grandiose “jet”ways. (Yes, there were several.) When we did get off, I lagged behind the others who and took a lot of pictures, and ended up unknowingly holding up the taxi, which had arrived about 20 minutes earlier than I had been told it would. Whoops. I mean, I was going slowly – bracketing shots and everything. I’m lucky they didn’t leave without me.

The taxi van took us past the fish markets and auctions, but it was Sunday, so they were closed. We ended up at Kokusai-Tenjijo Station in the port district, but I wasn’t tempted to explore – I was about seaed out. I stared at a map, wondering where I should go first. Shinjuku seemed like a good bet, because it had the free observation galleries of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center towers, in addition to legendary camera stores like Yodobashi. (It turns out, though, at least from what I’ve seen, that the real bargains on camera-related things like memory cards and media are in Akihabara with the other electronics.)

En route, I met a lost otaku at Osaki. He had been wandering the boondocks all night after an evening of drinking, and wanted to go back to his hotel for a nap before flying back to the United States that evening. Since we were sitting on a JR trainset on a non-JR line, I figured that this would provide through service to the Saikyo Line, so we sat waiting in my original car, figuring it would go where we needed to go. But after a while I figured out that the train was actually going to go back the way I’d come – back to the boondocks! I guess if it was a through service, it was a through service emerging out of the other end of the Rinkai Line. Fortunately, an appropriate train was to come to the adjacent platform.

The otaku got off first, then I got to Shinjuku, where it turns out its namesake train station is the busiest in the world. I believe it – there are about a bajilion lines that stop there, and there are, approximately, from what I’ve seen, thirteen billion exits. It’s also a station that has separate turnstiles for transfers and exits, and you don’t need me to tell you how much time and frustration was spent learning that at the transfer turnstiles, inserting my ticket again and again and again and being stopped by the gate again and again and again, all the while eyeing a sign indicating the way to the coin lockers that was through said turnstiles.

Somehow, I found the other turnstiles, found other lockers, emerged into the light, and found a little place to eat a breakfast burger. Yum. Now to get a look at Tokyo!

I got to the municipal buildings, only to find everything closed – the observation decks were to open at 9:30, and it was still only 8:45. I was getting hot, sweaty, and sticky already, and it was still early morning. I could only sit on a staircase in the shadow of a facing building and wait.

I saw a tourist-photographer with an SLR eyeing me disdainfully as we took pictures of the sculptures in the centre court. Hoo-boy. I really have to get a less sketchy-looking camera. With this one, people are like, “Why do you take so many pictures?” If I had proper equipment, I think they wouldn’t ask. On this day, though, I was only in the market for a new, larger memory card. My camera is so old; it’s one of those rare digicams that takes CompactFlash. I thought that I’d also try to check out Akihabara at some point in the day, thinking that I should do the obvious things now and leave a challenge for Masae. =)

At 9:20, a crowd began to form. Time to grab a place in line!

The elevators in each of the two towers were curious – they were special ones that directly served the observation levels. The buttons were like this:   1   2   45

The observatories afforded good views, especially considering that they were free to access. Very little is free in Tokyo. They must make the money back on the souvenirs and other junk they sell up there - $10.50 for nail clippers, anyone? Also, if you need that last “Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office” Hello Kitty or Gundam, this is the place to go.

After you leave either observatory, you’re returned to the second floor, where there is an information office containing displays and information released by the individual prefectures. At the time I visited, it was wall-to-wall Tokushima! I couldn’t believe it. They had Awa Odori videos, scenic posters, and the Tokushima mascot was even sitting out front.

Back downstairs there was a dedicated information centre for the Tokyo area, and there were maps and information galore – everything you need to get oriented (HAHA GET IT) and start making plans. So make the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office your first Tokyo stop.

I went back into Shinjuku’s shopping district in search of a new memory card and some spare batteries (as Mt. Fuji, which I had been thinking of climbing, is not known for its charging stations). At Yodobashi, I found a card that would do the job at a reasonable price, which wasn’t easy because all the specials and bargains were on Secure Digital, not CompactFlash. Even microSD was cheaper per gigabyte than my plain ‘ol CF! Buying the card and some suitable high-drain disposable batteries was anticlimactic, because buying them pushed me uncomfortably closer to the edge of my wallet.

I sat in a McDonald’s charging my usual camera batteries, worrying about money and picking at a few 100-yen hamburgers. Nobody will make fun of me if I’m $100 over-budget, right? Or, taking it further, so what if I come home in the end with $5000 instead of $5500? <Sigh.>

Looking around me from that second floor dining area, I saw foreigners on every block – just like Toronto. =) It’s easy to forget that I’m a foreigner, too, and it’s very awkward to see so many other strangers that I don’t have a system for understanding. They kind of put me into a subtle fight-or-flight mode, you know? Moreover, though, I kept seeing the same two or three metrosexual white guys again and again and again and again… and here I am in my shorts and t-shirt, drenched in sweat, munching on $1 hamburgers and charging AA batteries to use in my ancient camera. What a culture clash! I have only myself to blame for my relative (definitely not absolute) impoverishment, though – or, more to the point, I have sole responsibility for such – and I intend to use what little I’ve accumulated to help change my lot when I return. Second chances are an earned privilege.

A map of Shinjuku I picked up at the information centre identified a park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, which seemed like a good, cheap ($2) thing to check out. It was nestled in the southeast corner of my map, so I headed in that direction. I was to discover that getting to the park was one thing and getting inside another. I wasted a lot of time circling around one particular area looking for an entrance before deciding to plod on parallel to the wall, and that way I did eventually find a gate. It had a ticket vending machine, turnstiles, and everything – it was like getting on the subway. It made going to the park seem like such a commodifiable thing!

There was quite a bit to see inside, though, and it was worth paying to get inside. Deep within the park, I met a fellow Canadian – he would soon be going back to Toronto. He was a 5-year veteran of Japan, and he had lots of advice for me. He said my job didn’t sound too bad, either. I guess he’s right; I still think we’re underpaid – I mean, I knew this going in, but I didn’t know any better than to sign on. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice, and I thought that the perks of this particular job would be worth the pay hit. Now I’m not so sure, but in any case it doesn’t matter – I’m stuck, and I might as well make the most of it. I’m more than halfway through my contract now anyway, and still halfway through my total time in Japan even if I stay longer and finish this academic year. Not that I’m counting. Perish forbid.

He’d struck up a conversation when we were both photographing some polypores on a tree. His fine-looking girlfriend remained on a blanket on the grass in the clearing behind us. He was tempted to stay in Japan; he could have started working with her father’s company, but he would have had to become Very Japanese. <Shudder> Still, he noted this: Get a Japanese girlfriend and a good job in a good place, and the world is your oyster. I can’t argue with that idea.

I guess nothing is perfect, though: I see that foreign guys often end up fathering unwanted children and get stuck here in their dead-end jobs and loveless marriages. This isn’t my particular danger, because I can’t even afford a social life, much less a girlfriend. =) But even if I could, there’d be a ticking time bomb – at some point the decision would have to be made: Do I go home and go back to school, or do I stay here and teach English for the rest of my life? (Yuck!) Who wants to wake up at 30 or 35 with an English degree and call centre skillz? I don’t. Get me on the first plane outta here. (And if it were the girls I was after, it wouldn’t have been necessary to go abroad again – there are plenty of all kinds in Halifax.)

These days, I am finding contentment in simple pleasures (the only ones I can currently afford; thankfully, they’re the best kind), and on this day I enjoyed sitting on a bench and eating an ice cream cone in an attempt to combat the 35 degree heat.

I wanted to do something cold – I thought of trying Mt. Fuji the next evening, or the day after tomorrow. I waked in the park for a few more hours, only leaving when it was closing time, because you know, you have to get your money’s worth. I was going to hang out in Shinjuku a while longer because my new acquaintance recommended going up the tower at night.

I went back to McDonald’s again and charged my batteries some more. Even with the sun setting, it was still too hot to walk aimlessly without becoming a pile of gaijin sweat. I was already starting to get tired of Tokyo even though I’d barely scratched its surface. I hoped things would be different when I met Masae the following day.

I went to the towers again – this time there was a greater crowd, as everyone was stuffed into one tower while the other was closed for the evening. It was hard to see outside and really hard to take pictures, as the interior lights were very bright, and this light reflected off the insides of the windows, ruining most of the potential opportunities. I did, though, see a trio of Russian tourists, and one of them was a tall, leggy blonde with very short, tight denim shorts. <Melt> M. has said that Japanese girls “have a monopoly on beautiful,” but geez, after that I’m not so sure!

I’d sighted an all-night cybercafé earlier and I headed back there hoping to retire early, but I would have had to pay a few hundred yen for every fifteen minutes before the eight-hour package kicked in. (Or I could just get the eight hours then, and leave at like five in the morning.) So I was like, OK, I’ll come back around midnight. But then I figured, heck, I might as well just go to the Roppongi area now and find a place to stay there, and then I’d have an easy stroll to the bank and the meeting place with Masae. So off I went, duffel bag in tow.

This was a bad, bad idea.

There were no (visible) cybercafés.

There were no capsule hotels.

But I did run into a gaggle of tall, imposing African men at a busy intersection. One asked me where I was going. Well, I was just looking for a cybercafé. He, though, figured I was looking for a place to relax and have a few drinks. No, no, just a cybercafé. Oh, but I should come along and look at his place, and stay for a few minutes. No, please, I don’t – Look, just come on, just come with me. What are you afraid of? This is Japan! Where are you from? Canada? Well, this is Japan! Everything’s safe here! Now you can come to my bar, relax, have a good time–

Ei. Had he not been so imposing, I would have found a way to politely continue on my way, but this was a fellow who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I honestly wondered what he might do if I didn’t appear to cooperate.

He all but dragged me into his bar. It looked OK, but according to the card he gave me it was one of those places where it’s $50 for 90 minutes and $70 to stay all night. He was saying, no, you don’t have to pay, just sit down and relax – RIIIIIIIGHT.

He got distracted for a second by a patron, and I made my getaway. To my dismay, he still managed to get on the elevator with me and escort me out, vowing to find me a business hotel. He took me to one, and then mercifully departed when he was satisfied that the clerk and I could converse in English.

“So…” I asked the clerk after my "guide" had gone back out to the street. “How much for a room?”
“11,500 yen.” ($115)
“Hum. Do you mind if I just stand here for a few minutes, until that guy goes away?”
The clerk laughed; he understood.

I asked about a cybercafé, and the clerk said there was one tucked away around a corner someplace, but once I got out onto the street I made a beeline for the subway. This was not a neighborhood where one could wander aimlessly and alone at night! (Actually, there are few of those anywhere.)

By the time I got back to Shinjuku it was almost eleven o’clock anyway, so I was able to kill the remaining time in a McDonald’s, charging my batteries and munching on 100-yen burgers again. (I’m pretty sure three visits and six burgers is my new personal McDonald’s record. I’m not aching to break it anytime soon.)

I went to the cybercafé around midnight and settled in – it was small, cramped, and expensive (it made the one in Matsuyama seem like a palace), but it did the trick.

(More to come!)
Tags: cameras, cities, ferries, japan, strangers, subways, tokyo, transport, travel, trips

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