weill in japan: day 31
I've been pushed around in trains, burned by the sun, and propped up on
stilts. It's been a good Friday.
The day after our dreaded midterm had
the class head off to Harajuku for what I thought was a 9:00 AM start. After
getting washed and dressed a half-hour later than normal, I headed out at
8:05 AM for the train station to catch the train into the bustling hub of
There, I experienced the morning rush as I never could have imagined.
The train arrived at Ogikubo, opened its doors, and a few people got out.
From there on out, it was an everyday matter to squash ten people into a space
barely big enough for five. I was among the first in, and made my way to the
center of the car. The last people in actually walked in backwards to
fully press their weight against the mass of people in the car. At this
density level, people more or less act as one mass: grabbing onto handles is
completely redundant. Pressed against people on all sides -- including a
young child right in front of me -- we headed out. Three more stations before
Shinjuku provided even more people, and those who expected to get out
before the major hub had to literally shove their way out of the car to blaze
a path for themselves. I went from having zero personal space to having
negative personal space: for the latter half of this first leg, people
were pushing against my chest non-stop. After transferring to the equally
busy Yamanote Line to arrive at Harajuku, I was relieved to be out of the
train and trying not to think about the many sources of the sweat on my
In a society which has historically
looked down upon physical contact between strangers, the subway system
represents an unusual modern challenge. Thousands upon thousands of
commuters go through the same hell every day, crammed into impossibly
crowded cars. Conductors exist on station platforms to push people into
trains. Even in New York, a city notorious for its hectic pace, people will
wait for the next subway train if the current one is full. Both Tokyo and
New York run trains every couple of minutes during rush hour, but Tokyo
workers absolutely must get on the train at all costs. The nightmare of
commuting is a real detriment for outsiders like myself, and represents a
key reason why I wouldn't want to live and work in the city full time. (Of
course, there are also buses and personal cars, but the roadways are horribly
congested as well.)
an early start
I arrived at Harajuku at 8:40 AM, giving me plenty of time to rehydrate
and seek out the station exit where I would meet my class. After about ten
minutes of walking up and down the block, I thought I had found the right
place. No students or professors were waiting for me there. I walked around
again, looking for the "South Entrance" as directed on the instruction sheet.
Unlike most stations, there was no entrance explicitly named "South Entrance,"
but the station clerk confirmed that I was at the right location on the map
given to us in class yesterday. At 9:05 AM, five minutes after I thought
we were supposed to meet, I decided to call my professor's mobile phone
to ask where everyone was.
One minute and 210 yen later, I realized that I wasn't five minutes late --
I was 25 minutes early. We were to meet at 9:30 AM. D'oh.
Sure enough, after we all gathered at the correct time, we were off.
Sighting: A member of the Imperial family was driven in a motorcade past the
entrance to the Meiji shrine as we walked nearby. The guard on duty saluted
the cars. Neat. We didn't enter the shrine, but took plenty of pictures near
the giant gates.
Today's event was the annual Greater
Tokyo Festival or Oo-Edo Matsuri, which celebrates Tokyo's history.
Traditional games, crafts, and some modern foods available at moderate
prices. I bought a melon-flavored shaved ice; a
bottle of Ramune soda, which comes in an unusual bottle
sealed with a marble; and a few sticks of yakitori. Total cost: seven tickets,
worth ¥700 ($5.80). All the fun produced
tons of photo opportunities for myself and my classmates, and I captured a
ton of photos and video clips using my camera.
After a tasty lunch at an Italian buffet restaurant (buffets are called
baikingu, literally "Viking," in Japan) we each went our separate
ways. After a little shopping in Harajuku's energetic youth-oriented
marketplace, we felt the first few raindrops and headed back to the station.
Since it was still a bit early, I thought I would play a few games at the
arcade near Ogikubo station and head home.
the skies open up
The rains which drenched Tokyo last evening returned today just after
I got to Ogikubo station, as the sky turned from blue to gray to black.
Pitch black. Black as night. The rain started slowly but quickly
accelerated to a torrential downpour. Since I didn't have my backpack, I had
no umbrella, and I thought I could wait out the rain in the department store
and arcades in the station area.
One hour passed. Two hours passed. Rather than try to wait out the
rain, I decided to bite the bullet, buy an umbrella for a surprisingly low
price (¥630, or $5.25), and walk home solo. Thankfully, I didn't buy
anything that might have been soaked, but the time was wasted anyway. It's
okay -- I haven't had this much fun on a class day since I've been here.
Over dinner, my older brother Toshi pointed that my arms looked unusually
red. I've been outside long enough in a day to get sunburned. Rock.
The rains that have hit Tokyo for the past two days are projected to hit
again on Saturday evening. Hopefully they won't wash out the fireworks
festival planned for tomorrow evening, which I hope to visit with a friend
of my older brother's.
My rating in Taiko no Tatsujin 3 has risen to "Taiko no Meijin," the
second-highest rating behind "Taiko no Tatsujin." My dictionary defines both
"Meijin" and "Tatsujin" as "master, expert." It's a shame that the game isn't
available in the U.S. and likely won't be imported due to its Japan-centric
The fighting games at most arcades in Japan are set up so that the
first player and second player sit at opposite machines and do not see each
other during play. This means that it's possible to sit at an opposite
machine and impatiently wrest control of the game by challenging the current
player. There's no way for the two machines to play independently, probably
because they use the same central hardware. I was playing along just fine
until a guy put his coin in, challenged me, and turned me into carpeting.
I'm not bitter. Really.
Some meta-statistics: so far I've taken about 300 digital photos in
Japan, and a number of video clips. Including this update, my writings
while in Japan have exceeded 32,000 words in length. That's more than 206
kilobytes of text, and some 200 megabytes of photographs. I'll put some
photos on the web after I'm back in New York, but they will be scaled down to
reduce download times
and fit into my disk quota.
Now I know where all the freaks congregate on Sundays in Shibuya. I
didn't visit that spot this past Sunday,
but I might try to go on August 11. This coming Sunday, I'm heading into
downtown Tokyo to see the Godzilla statue. That trip originates in Shibuya,
It's another early start on Saturday as this crazy weekend continues.