The horse I rode in on

Wednesday 3:39PM - Three days later I’m back on the same train I came in on. It was a very short trip, but I had enough time to get a sense for the culture here and even get mildly comfortable wandering around Akasaka, the neighborhood where I was staying. I’m not sure if I bought a ticket or not, I swiped my PASMO card, the all-purpose magic public transit pass they have here. Hopefully I won’t get kicked off before my stop, the last stop, Narita Airport. OK, the official looking man did ask for a ticket, of which I had none. Had to pay some sort of penalty and go to the poor people’s car. The defeat was tempered by a couple of attractive locals giggling and smiling at me. Everything since then has gone smoothly, turned in my PASMO card, and exchanged my Yen for Hong Kong Dollars. I had over $20 US in change. Check in was a breeze and I passed through security without any hiccups. Did I mention my flight was delayed 2 hours? I don’t really mind having the extra time to write and relax with my gate just a few seconds away.

The past three days rushed by, thankfully my not sleeping the night before flying over technique got me on a pretty good schedule. Sunday afternoon I made my way from the train station to a bookstore where Brandon met me a few minutes later. We headed back the way I came and hopped on a subway to Akasaka, and made our way to Brandon’s apartment. He place was small, but nicely appointed with a variety of futuristic features, like an entire control panel dedicated to controlling the air and water temperature in the small space containing the shower and bath. It was full of witty comments like “The water will begin flowing now” right before the water began flowing. I took one of those awesome, post traveling, showers where clean feels better than usual, and we headed out for dinner. Sushi seemed like an easy choice, and we caught up over cold beers and sashimi. We strolled around Brandon’s neighborhood a bit longer after dinner, and I attempted to get my bearing for the next day.

By 10pm I could barely keep my head up, we set up my very Japanese seeming floor mat / bed and I tapped out. The mat was just thick enough to feel snuggly, but it’s defining characteristic was the hardness of the floor beneath it. Luckily for me, I love sleeping on hard surfaces. I used to nap on the bath mat while the shower warmed up early mornings before school. Delicious. I woke early to more sun than I expected. The apartment was on the lower level, but a generous walled patio allowed plenty of light to stream in. Brandon dressed from work and soon I was alone in a new city with nothing planned.

First thing I needed to do was get my sim card phone setup, I poked around online and found what seemed like the best bet for getting that done. I wandered my way to the subway and headed for Mejujingumae – another area of the city named for the giant shrine located there. Getting out of the subway, all I saw were shrines of consumerism, including an H&M building that looked a hell of a lot like the New Museum in NY. Throngs of excited shoppers lined up outside, like young baby boomers expecting to see Elvis waving at them. The cell phone store was closed when I got there, so I had an hour to kill. I walked until I found a Starbucks. I’ll confess it: when I’m in another country, Starbucks makes me happy. The familiarity of it I guess, the near guarantee of seeing another westerner working on a laptop. An hour later, frapachinoed out, I made my way to the cell phone store only to find that ‘no, you must buy a new phone, I can help you with that’ – clearly not worth it. Defeated I made my way back to Akasaka. Near Brandon’s I stopped into a little restaurant and ate a delicious bowl of salty oily soba noodles with boiled pork, seaweed, and some mystery veg. I slurped it up, along with a beer and headed home to use the internet; all in all, a good meal for $7. Back at Brandon’s, I found out my meeting (the whole reason for my being here in Tokyo) would be taking place that night at 6pm. With four hours to kill, I took to the patio and did some exercises, feeling even more like a ninja than I normally do when doing pushups and squat thrusts. I followed ninja time up with another satisfying shower. Must have been the talking temperature lady: “The water will begin flowing now.”

I make it to the building where my meeting will take place. 10 floors, none of them labeled with English names. I do what any normal person would do. I get in the elevator and hit every button. I peak out at each floor looking for something familiar. Finally, after a number of embarrassing interactions with confused, bow prone, office workers, I make it to the office and have my secret meeting. Turns out the people I was meeting with were just about as clueless as I was as to why we were meeting. Thankfully, they perceived me to be somewhat important, and there nervousness shone through and through, which I sort of enjoyed. It’s not everyday I get to make a bunch of middle-aged Japanese executives sweat it out.

Ah, the blinds at the airport just opened. Looks like it’s going to be a clear night. More recounting of the trip to come...


rivkah said...

have you read "a cook's tour" by anthony bourdain? his take on starbucks in tokyo is similar to yours...

Mom said...

Know what you mean about the familiarity of a Starbucks--or other predictable spot-- in a new land. When we lived in Basel,all the Americans and Brits would hang out at a pub that really wasn't all that great, but they knew they would see familiar faces and hear a familiar language. Keep enjoying the adventure of traveling.

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