Winter's Phlegm-boyant Tokyo Adventure
February 16 (Monday)
Monday, February 16, 2003
A Rocky Start
After four days of miserable luck during a Scrabble tournament in Danbury, CT, it appeared that misfortune had not yet finished with me. As I drove back towards Princeton, I started to feel a soreness in my throat. After some time, the beginnings of a headache became apparent. I had intended to put in 3 or 4 hours at work before leaving to pack, but I bailed after just one hour so that I could get some rest.
After stopping at Best Buy for a fresh set of rechargeable batteries, and at Home Depot for a plug adaptor which I later discovered to be the wrong one, I headed back to the house, threw clothes in the laundry, and crashed onto my bed after taking some Nyquill (generic equivalent) caplets. The next six or so hours were very painful. The throat soreness was replaced by a mild headache which gave way to chills and muscle soreness. Those symtopms abated after a few hours, replaced by a 100-degree fever. My throat seemed constantly parched--I had to keep getting up for water.
I wondered if I could change my flight for Wednesday, but I was hurting so much I didn't feel like calling the airline. So I just waited, tossed and turned, drank water, took more pills, and eventually got some sleep. I had planned on leaving very early for the airport, but by the time I awoke it was 5:45. My landlady Margaret was having breakfast when I went downstairs, and she expressed concern that I would be flying in spite of being sick. She has seemed fairly protective of me since I moved in--almost like a surrogate mother.
I left at 7:00, fearing the worst as far as traffic was concerned, but I saw no significant delays all the way to JFK airport. It didn't take me long to experience my first mishap, however--I left my wool cap on the Air Train from the long term parking lot to the terminal.
At the check-in line, the young man ahead of me, name of So, was also going to Tokyo. I struck up a conversation, asking him some questions about Tokyo. I learned that he was returning to Japan for the first time in two years, after having finished a business degree from a community college in New York. He was nervous about reverse culture shock, and I was nervous about the language issue.
Check-in and security went smoothly, but as I waited at the gate, my headache began to return, so I took another couple of caplets. I had plenty of time to wait, write, and take notice of things, like the guy to my left watching The Matrix Reloaded on his laptop--I just couldn't understand watching such an effects-heavy movie on such a small screen. And the cute young girl across from me and to the right. She was seated next to an older gentleman, and I wonder if she was his daughter or his lover. I noticed a quarter on the floor, and it was a testament to how bad I was feeling that I didn't stoop to pick it up.
Around 11:00 we were boarding. The first thing I did when I got on the Boeing 777 was to ask a flight attendant if electrical outlets were provided. She said that they were, in certain rows, but that the plug was like for an automobile cigarette lighter. Curses, I thought--I had just set my adapter aside that very morning, thinking it would be useless. It didn't matter, really, because I was feeling so bad that I wouldn't have been able to do much writing without making my headache worse. I spent nearly all of the thirteen hours trying to sleep. I need not have worried that the one book I brought, Faulkner's Light in August, would not be long enough, because I managed to read little more than a chapter.
The Roughest Thirteen Hours
The plane was only about half full, but the design was not to my liking. Each row in coach had nine seats, but in a 2-5-2 arrangement, rather and 3-3-3. There was one middle section open, at the front, but when I asked the attendant she said it was usually reserved for passengers with infacts. When two ladies moved up there, I took their seats, because another passanger had occupied the window seat next to my aisle seat. At had two seats to myself, but the total space was too small to lie down comfortable. I managed it though, a few times, but I always woke up feeling cramped, and with my arm falling asleep. After a few hours my headache began to intensify, so I took another two caplets. About four hours before arrival, my nasal floodgates broke and I started to drip, so I took yet another two caplets, plus a benadryl for good measure. Despite feeling ill, I have to say that the thirteen hours didn't feel as long as I had feared, and it wasn't all that bad at all.
The air route took us up through Canada and Alaska, then over the Bering Strait and Russia, including the International Date Line, and finally over water down to Tokyo. I had flown to Alaska once before, but I couldn't remember if I was able to see anything. This time the skies were so clear I could see some magnificent vistas below, especially when we passed over the mountains. They looked so small, from 37,000 feet, even though I knew they were immense from the ground.
We were traveling west, seemingly with the sun, and in daylight the entire time, and at some points the sun was shining so brightly onto the window shade that it became very hot. In fact, when I tried to sleep against it, I had to use two pillows, because the pillow next to the shade would become uncomfortably hot. By contrast, when I tried to lie down my legs and feet felt cold, and I couldn't figure out why.
I was anxious as we began our descent. I felt strange, and I wasn't sure if it was the anxiety and anticipation, the fact that my internal clock thought it was 5:00 AM, or my illness and the combination of medication I had taken. I thought that coffee might help, as it had been over 36 hours since my last cup. I grew impatient as it took over 15 minutes from landing to taxi near the gate, and then to be towed in the rest of the way, as was required for that size plane (Boeing 777).
One of the first things I noticed in the terminal was the presence of three-pronged outlets--so much for So's claims that I would find none. I checked to make sure my laptop adapter plug would fit, and it did. That came as a relief--one less item to worry about.
One Down... Nearly 500 More to Go
Before landing, I asked the flight attendant if there was a Starbucks in the airport. She said there was, but that I wouldn't pass it upon arrival. Nevertheless, after I landing, clearing immigration, claiming my suitcase, and clearing customs, I asked at the tourist information desk and was directed to the fourth floor.
Thanks to a pictorial directory of the airport mall, I quickly found the first Starbucks of my trip. I asked the barista if he spoke English, and then asked to speak to the manager. I showed him the note that Max's wife had translated for me. At first he wasn't sure about providing coffee, but I think, from what he read back to me, that the note said a "sample" cup, and that's what he ended up giving me. I wasn't sure if a sample size contained the four ounces required by the board, and I wondered if the board would accept a modification the rules of my project to allow this.
I encountered no resistance while taking a photo of the store, but I could not find it on the list I had printed out from the Starbucks Japan web site, which made me wonder if airport stores were run by a separate company, like back in America.
I had exchanged some cash back at JFK, just to have some yen handy, but now I needed more. The exchange counter required a form be filled out--my first such experience. The exchange rate, as I expected, was much better than what was provided back in America.
I went to the airport information counter and asked the best way to the Jimbocho-Sakura Hotel where I was staying. Instructions were provided in the e-mail I received wheh I reserved my room, but I wasn't sure which of the two options was best. The attendant indicate an cheaper route involving only the train instead of the bus.
I went downstairs to catch the train and I spotted another Starbucks. Once again I asked to speak to the manager, and while he did not seem to understand when I explained my project in English, he understood the note I showed him. One of the other baristas offered a sample cup even before I had time to ask. The manager explained that there were five Starbucks in the area. The one on the fourth floor which I had already visited, one other in Terminal 2, and two in shopping malls that were too far for walking. I decided to head straight to the hostel and put away my suitcase.
Dazed and Confused... for Most of the Next Five Days
After seeing how expensive the train ticket was, almost 1000 yen, or about $10, I decided first to go back upstairs and obtain $80 more worth of yen.
I must have had a look of complete confusion on my face as I stood in front of the ticket vending machine, because a lady, with a rather concerned look on her face, asked if I needed help. She barely spoke English, but I indicated on the map what line I wanted to change to. She took the map and went over to the counter for the rapid train, the Skyline, and asked the attendants. She returned with slightly different directions, to take the Keisei line to the Aoto station.
I hopped on board the train and immediately began looking around for some indication of the stations where it would stop. I noticed a display indicating that this was an express train, so I stepped off and asked an offical if "Aoto". He said yes, and I hopped back on. A gentleman who spoke decent English asked me if he could help, and I asked him a few questions about the subway--namely whether I'd be able to purchase a week-long pass, and how big Tokyo was. He confirmed that the route I had planned to Jimbocho was correct, but he alerted me that I would have to get off at the station before Aoto because this was an express train.
I got off at the Takasago station and experienced more confusion in trying to get on the correct train to Oshiage. I finally found the correct platform, and while I waited I could not help but notice a Japanese schoolgirl in the iconic plaid uniform I'd seen so many times in film, most recently in Kill Bill. But unlike Go-go, the cute, yet deadly, bodyguard in that movie, this girl, and others I would notice later, had chubby legs. I was disappointed, expecting all Japanese schoolgirls to possess a combination of sex appeal plus deadly ninja skills.
On the train, I noticed the doors in between the cars were open while in transit. This produced a cool effect as the cars shifted while on a curve. I noticed also a lady wearing a white face mask--because of SARS I presumed--and later I noticed a person here, a person there, with a mask, but in general very few.
At the Oshiage station, I needed to switch to the Hanzomon line, and this required purchasing another ticket. As I had figured out all too slowly, the way it worked on this subway system was that you purchased a ticket for a particular monetary value that corresponded with your destination. So I had to look at the map, find my station, and enter the value associated with it into the machine. But the station names on this map were all in Japanese, and so I stood dumbfounded until a youth offered assistance. I pointed to the Jimbocho (or Jinbocho) station on my small map, and he pointed to the corresponding station on the big map, and I was then able to purchase the correct ticket.
While on the train, I noticed that felt uneasy not being able to correlate the physical layout of the city with the subway stations. Thus far, I felt completely lost. That lost feeling continued when I arrived at the Jimbocho station and discovered the instructions to the hostel only specified that it was two minutes from the station. That didn't help. As I stood in front of the map trying to figure out what the numbers 2-21-4 meant, a young lady with very crooked teeth became determined to help me. First she took me over to the station agent and asked him. The agent looked at several maps but could not find a Jimbocho Sakura Hotel. Then the lady called a friend who knew the hotel, and she said to wait for him to arrive. We went outside to meet him, and he led me to the hotel, saying it was very well known in the area.
I checked into the Sakura Hotel and found my room. I met a young Thai traveler named Kitty-Pong who informed me only the two top bunks were available. This was inconvenient because I knew I would be getting up many times on account of all the coffee I'd be drinking. I put my suitcase and coat up on the bed and went upstairs to ask the receptionist about the closest Starbucks. Then I went back downstairs to get my coat, because it turned out to be colder than I had thought.
The closest Starbucks was only a few minutes away. The entrance had a set of glass double-doors that appeared to require pushing or touching to trigger their opening. I was relieved to discover a three-pronged outlet for my laptop. But I could not seem to figure out which store this was.
The first barista I approached did not speak English, but the coworker she called over understood "manager" and pointed me towards him. He said he only spoke a little English, so I showed him my note. He asked for Starbucks ID, and I said that I did not work for Starbucks, that this was only a hobby. He came back with half a sample cup of coffee. Definitely not enough to fulfill my requirements.
I decided I had to just buy the coffee, but the discovery of one problem led to the solution to another. The store "manager" (probably the shift supervisor) told me which store I was in when he pointed me to the next store, visible down the boulevard, but I could not understand what he said. But I noticed that the receipt I had received when purchasing the Japan-exclusive Starbucks card and coffee included a phone number. I was able to search the store list that I had downloaded and locate the store, Jinbocho 1-chome.
It was only after I had been sitting at the Starbucks for a while that it dawned on me that classical music was playing over the sound system. I wasn't sure if I had ever heard classical music at Starbucks back in America, but I doubted it. After the intial confusion of arriving in a strange land passed, I began to notice other things. White sugar came in packets, but brown sugar came in a glass container. I went upstairs to find the restroom and I noticed there was a third floor! The restroom had a sliding door, and inside was a sign that read "Please let our staff know if you see any package that seems suspicious." Very comforting, that sign.
When I went outside to take a photo, I noticed that the cars were driving on the wrong side of the street. I had thought it was only the British and the Australians that did this. At the next Starbucks I would be nearly splattered as I rushed to the middle of the intersection to take a photo but looked for cars in the wrong direction. As I walked to that next Starbucks, I wished I had not ditched my long-sleeved shirt back at the hotel, where I had felt warmer. I hoped I'd warm up as I walked. Then I realized I had forgotten something important--the charger for my batteries! D'oh! I'd have to be conservative about how many frames I shot of each store, and I wouldn't be able to photograph other things willy nilly as I had hoped.
Before reaching the Starbucks, I spotted a sign for a restaurant named Wine Poissons Viandes and Pasta depicting an octopus on a plate of pasta, and I decided to give it a try. The waitress did not speak much English, so it took a while to order some spaghetti and meat sauce. I have no idea if they might have had meatballs or not. As I took out my laptop to continue writing, I wondered if this might be considered rude in Japan.
The spaghetti and meat sauce came with a tomato slice, and four pieces of what I assumed to be a vegetable, with a black peel and soft, peach-colored, bland interior. But I also thought they might be octopus tentacles, but then I figured that would make the meal more expensive. Plus the taste was really bland, not at all like meat. At the end of the meal, when the waitress went to run my Visa card, I asked a gentleman next to me what amount of tip was customary. He did not understand the word "tip" at first, but after a while he understood and replied that tipping was not necessary--that it was included.
At the next Starbucks I asked for an English-speaking barista and specified I wanted 1/2 of a short cup of coffee. She understood, but I was charged the full price anyhow. This was looking to be an expensive five days.
I noticed a pamphlet indicating this store offered wireless internet access, but apparently between the last store and this one my Wi Fi card had stopped working. Just great--was there no end to the glitches.
Just a few minutes more down Yasukuni-dori was another store. I rushed to make it by 10:00, only to discover it didn't close until 10:30. At this store I was only charged 100 yen (plus 5 tax) for my half coffee. Better.
I was feeling a little better, but it was a sign that I wasn't up to a hundred percent that it wasn't until the fifth Starbucks visited that it dawned on me that the condiment bars did not include trash cans, as they do in the US, Canada, and the UK. Later, as I lay in bed at night thinking about the day's events, it occured to me that the drip coffee seemed to be consistently cooler than what is served in America. I also noticed that the trash cans were divided into paper and plastic receptacles, and that some stores had a special receptacle for pouring out beverages.
I returned to the hotel and noticed a sign at the desk stating the Internet access in the rooms was now offered for laptops with ethernet cards. I obtained a kit from the attendant and eagerly went to the room to set it up. I connected a device to the phone, and then my laptop to the device, and I was able to get online with no problem. But despite trying several different methods, I was not able to upload any files to my web site. And after maybe 15 minutes, my battery gave out. Really hating Dell I was. Meanwhile, I chatted with a German in town on business and stuck in a dorm room for the night because the single rooms were all taken. He was very enthusiastic about Macintoshes, repeatedly insisting that I should get one, and/or visit the Apple store, as I complained about my inability to upload.
I must point out that in addition to the Thai and the German, I shared the room with a pair of Australians. Where ever I travel, there's always Australians.
I went to bed, and as I lay there I noticed my sore throat had returned, more painful this time, and replaced the other symptons, save for persistent phlegm. I did sleep, but I also got up and went to the restroom no fewer that seven times between 10:45 and 4:00 AM. As I climbed down the stairs, I injured myself a couple of times, hitting a funny bone around my knee once, and bumping my left testicle another time. The guys out there will know that no matter how light the bump, it still hurts. Add to this a bruise from when I tried to get up at the pasta restaurant only to discover a metal beam stabbing my thigh, and this was turning out to be a really bang-up trip.
Curse of the Cat-Thing
Around 3:53 we got another roommate, occupying the sixth and last bed. Not long thereafter I gave up on trying to sleep. I got up, showered, and went upstairs to check my e-mail again and see if I could figure out which Starbucks opened early. But the ones I found nearby all opened at 7:00. I was surprised, expecting them to open earlier. Lacking anything else to do, I went walking around, hoping to spot someplace open where I could plug in my laptop. It was very frustrating not to be able to use spare time to write because of my laptop's battery problems.
I spotted a storefront with the neon light up and some people leaving. I walked over and asked if it was a restaurant, but the English-speaker replied that it was karaoke. I snapped a photo of myself in a mirror, with some Japanese text in the background, just to prove I'd really been to Japan. As I walked on, I spotted a seemingly homeless man sleeping in a sitting position, and almost in the middle of the street. It seemed awful uncomfortable and dangerous, and I wondered how he ended up there instead of the sidewalk or up against the wall. Further down, I walked into the AM/PM, one of several convenience store chains I recognized, including Circle K and 7-11. I asked the cashier what time restaurants opened, and he eagerly retrieved a map and directed me down the street and around the corner to Jonathan's.
On the way to the restaurant, I spotted what appeared police officers on bicycles. Around the corner, some white-furred creature, to which I shall henceforth refer as the "cat-thing", darted into a narrow alleyway between two buildings. The alleyway was wide enough for a man, but just barely, and I wondered about its purpose. Did they simply misalign the buildings?
Okay, So Maybe They Don't All Speak English
At Jonathan's, I spotted outlets, but not the three-pronged variety. I would need to purchase an adapter ASAP. The waitress gave me the "Grand Menu", on which I saw nothing resembling breakfast food. While waiting for her to return, I asked the couple in the next booth if they spoke English, but they did not. The waitress returned, and I tried to ask her about breakfast. After much gesturing, she said something about a "Morning Menu", and I said "Yes!". She brought the morning menu, and like other menus I had seen in Tokyo the items were pictured, which made it possible for me to make a selection. Also, the calorie counts were listed. I picked out pancakes, though I was puzzled about what came with them. This turned out to be a yellow tea. The syrup was in a miniscule container, but the waitress brought me another. And slim decorative sugar packets for my tea. The "fork" was very small, and I stirred the tea with a metal implement that defies description.
I was feeling a bit fatigured now, and the light English-language music, the likes of Whitney and Mariah, did not help. But after I paid my check and started walking again, my fatigue disappeared. It was now 6:05, and I had expected more traffic and pedestrians, like in NYC. The third Starbucks I had visited the previous night still wasn't open. A disappointment, because outside on the door was a map, in Japanese, listing several other Starbucks in the area, and I was hoping for an translation by the partners. While waiting for it to get brighter so I could retake the photos of the three nearby stores, I stopped into a Kinko's, where Internet access was 200 yen for 10 minutes, about the same as in America. I looked around for a table with a three-pronged outlet, and I caught the attention of an employee, and I finally had to just purchase some computer time. I discovered I could at least update my log file from those computers, and it occurred to me to try something else back at the room when I returned.
After breakfast it was finally light enough out for me to rephotograph the three stores I had visited the previous night, so I walked back up and down Yusakuni-dori. On the way back to the hotel the previous night, I had spotted a couple of homeless men setting up a makeshift, yet tidy, shelter out of cardboard. I passed up one of the homeless in the morning packing up his shelter, and I offered him 100 yen to take his photo. Notice the neatly folded up cardboard on the right.
I went into the Awajicho ekimae store and spent about 20 minutes trying to explain to the baristas that I wanted directions to the nearest Starbucks that I had not already visited. I forsaw that I'd be lucky to visit 10 a day, let alone 15.
At the next Starbucks, Kanda Eki-mae, I caught up on my writing. Then I asked the assistant manager for directions, and she brought back map showing the locations of several Starbucks, and she gave me directions to a couple. But a few minutes later I was distracted by a pair of schoolgirls, one of whom had the thin legs I'd been expecting, and I was soon completely lost. Somehow I stumbled across the Kanda Station Minami-guchi store anyway, and from there resumed following the directions I had been given.
Meanwhile, this piece-of-shit that Dell has the cojones to pass off as a laptop kept freezing on me, requiring me to remember to save after every sentence or two, and basically wasting lots of time rebooting.
I found the next Starbucks easily enough, but it lacked three-pronged outlets, which gave me a reason to ask the barista for directions to the next store without having to explain why. The directions involved walking alone a straight route, but this proved easier shown than done, and I was soon lost. Thankfully, the gentleman next to me was headed the same direction, and I followed him.
I across the hallway from the Takebashi Palaceside store was a bookstore, but when I entered I was told they did not open until 10:00 AM. I found a restroom while I killed time, and the toilet was something called a "Shower Toilet". I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that. I blew my nose, and I continued to see blood mixed in with the phlegm, and then it suddenly dawned on me what these symptoms reminded me of--the sinus infection from the previous year! That time I had felt absolutely miserable and had had to take a course of antibiotics. I really hoped I wasn't coming down with a full-blown infection while in Tokyo.
I returned to the hotel and move my things from my top bunk to Marcus the German's bottom bunk. By coincidence, the ultra-blonde Swede I met in the bathroom was also named Marcus. He was very friendly, and asked me about my travels in America, as he too had traveled much in America. When I mentioned my sinus infection, he asked with concern if it was contagious, and I assured him it was not. Still, he downed a vitamin C tablet to ward off illness.
I headed back to the nearby Jimbocho store and asked the manager for an address and general location of the Starbucks Japan company headquarters. It turned out that I would need to take a train from the Ochanomizu station, where there was a nearby Starbucks, so I obtained directions to that one too. After visiting the Starbucks I felt famished, and I wanted to eat something before heading over to Starbucks headquarters, where I might spend a bit of time. I did not feel like wandering around, so it was pasta again, from one of a multi-themed set of restaurants, seemingly owned by the same outfit, stacked one atop the other. As I was leaving, I looked down the steep stairwell and experienced some serious vertigo.
I went into the Ochanomizu station and caught a line bound for Sendagaya. While on the train, as on other occasions during this trip, the lyrics and beat to Naughty by Nature's "OPP" kept running through my head. I have no explanation for this.
Outside the Sendagaya station I stared at the local area map for minutes before giving up and showing an attendant the address. He pointed me in general direction. I walked down a few blocks and popped into a clothing store and asked a lady who pointed me down another street. At the bottom of a hill I spotted a sign pointing to a Starbucks. I went in and bought my coffee, and when I showed a barista the address she pointed across the street--there it was, the fabled Starbucks Support Center!
The Support Center is what Starbucks Japan called there company headquarters, the same as in London. I went inside and asked the receptionists if they spoke English. The giggled and said no, and then a lady passing by asked if she could help me. I asked to speak to someone in customer relations. She asked if there was a problem, and I said no, that I was here to visit all the Starbucks in Tokyo, and that if she could find someone who had heard of my web site they could explain better. She made some calls but could not find anyone. I stood back and waited, and started to think I'd have no luck here. Suddenly one of the receptionists handed here a phone, and she told me someone from customer relations would be down to speak to me. After a few minutes of my standing against the wall listening to them speak about me in Japanese, wondering what they were saying, they said they would look into finding maps for me, and beckoned me to wait in a room. One of the customer relations agents, Seito, accompanied me, and I suggested to her that what might help would be a letter in Japanese explaining to the partners what I was doing and that I needed to find the next Starbucks. She seemed to think this was a good idea and went away to retrieve some materials.
She closed the door, and I immediately imagined myself as in an interrogation room, perhaps similar to the one in The Matrix. I looked at the electrical outlet longingly, lamenting that it was not three-pronged. And then suddenly I remembered the plug adapter that I had just purchased. D'oh! As I plugged in and booted my laptop, I imagined myself a hacker about to tap into the vast Starbucks corporate network and download their secrets for world domination.
After a few minutes Seito returned and began working on the letter. Meanwhile, her coworker was investigating whether there were any four or five story Starbucks in Tokyo for me to visit, as well as other interesting ones. Then I hit the jackpot! There was a knock on the door, and one of the vice presidents entered and asked if I was Winter. Apparently, they had been informed of my trip by a partner in Seattle, but they thought it would be in July. Still, it worked out, as the VP answered many of my questions and even came up with a solution to the coffee problem--a Starbucks card with enough funds to tide me over for the duration of my trip.
I was very pleased with this turn of events. I had begun to think that no one in Japan had heard of me. With the Starbucks card and the letter, the rest of my trip looked to run a bit more smoothly. I was also very tired, feeling some serious jet lag. I decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.
The Token Non-Starbucks Visit
On the way back to the Sendagaya station, I spotted some type of shrine. I decided to get my token non-Starbucks visit out of the way, something I had to do so people wouldn't think I was crazy for traveling to Japan just to visit Starbucks. I wanted to take a photo, but first I looked around for someone who spoke English to ask if photography was allowed. No sense offending the locals if avoidable. A lady spoke a little bit and said it was okay. Her English was not good enough to explain what the purpose of the shrine was, but she did point to a large model of Mt. Fuji.
Seito had mentioned that there was one Starbucks on the way back to Jimbocho, at the Ichigaya station. I decided to go ahead and get it out of way, even though it would require paying to get back on the subway. I thought this was a rip off, that I had to pay double just for getting off and back on. I saw the Starbucks immediately upon exiting the station. I confirmed with a barista that it was the only one in Ichigaya. I went back down to the subway to continue my trip back, and I was pleased to discover I could catch a line directly to Jimbocho. I'd save myself a walk at least.
Despite having walked up and down Jimbocho the previous night and that morning, upon exiting the station I found myself unsure of where the hotel was. I usually have a great sense of direction--my infection must have been affecting me in many ways. While I looked around, I spotted an adult video store I had not noticed before, and I entered out of curiosity. Nothing was in English, so I left after a minute or so and continued wondering which way to walk. Finally I asked an official which way west was. I think he pointed me east. But I guess east was the way to go, because I stumbled across the hotel and crashed onto my bed for many hours.
Drama and Intrigue in the Far East
I awoke many times, each time knowing I needed to eat, but not yet motivated enough to get out of bed. Around midnight, the balance tipped in favor of my hunger, and I went in search of victuals. Nothing on the hotel cafe's menu looked appealing, so I headed out towards the am/pm, trying to decide between convenience store food and a 24-hour restaurant I had passed earlier that morning. As I turned onto Yusakuni-dori, a saw a young lady half-jogging, half walking in my direction, presumably because of the dropping temperature and the wind. Further down, I stopped to fumble with the zipper on my coat, and then to scope out a vending machine, and the girl passed me. I was about to continue down the sidewalk when I spotted a different am/pm, closer, but on the other side of the street. The walk signal had just turned on, and I scooted across the street, behind the girl. She at first stayed on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, heading in the same direction as the am/pm, but, as I followed, she suddenly turned around and headed into the subway station. As I turned to enter the am/pm, I spotted her having resumed her original course, and I had to wonder if she had thought I was following her and thus changed her course to see what I would do. Apparently, drama and intrigue had followed me across the oceans.
I bought something that looked like orange juice, something that looked like yogurt, and something that looked like a sweet roll. But as I returned and ate my way to the center of the roll, I discovered something creamy and sour, and rather unpleasant, in the center. Yuck! So I just ate around the edge of the roll and discarded the rest. The yogurt was fine, though it was time-consuming and messy to eat with the ultra-tiny spoon-like implement I was given by the cashier.
I wrote downstairs in the cafe to avoid disturbing my roommates, but the cigarette smoke from the couple, the only other two still in the cafe at 1:30 AM, began to bother me, in large part because of my sinus condition, and I had to head back to my room.
It worried me that I was still sleepy after having been in bed for the better part of 14 hours. Nevertheless I got up and was out the door before 7:00. I had to leave my suitcase in the lobby because I was being moved from the Filly room (intended for females) to the Colt room. I told the attendant I wouldn't mind sharing a room with females, but she remained unmoved.
As I waited on the subway platform, I spotted an old, perhaps homeless man, digging through the trash--just like back home.
I headed for Ginza, because I had been told at the Support Center that it had a couple of noteworthy stores. The Ginza district was one of the few areas of Tokyo that I recognized. I arrived at the Ginza station easily enough, but amazingly, it took me over 15 minutes to stumble across a Starbucks. After first asking a gentleman who professed ignorance, I stepped into a phone booth to see if the instruction on the store listings would help. I did not see anything obvious, but I tried to make a mental note of the buildings and streets to compare against the local area maps which were prevalent at major intersections. The phone booth, by the way, was papered with advertisements for escorts, similar to those found in phone booths in London.
After some wandering, I finally spotted a Starbucks, which just happened to be the first location in Japan. As I set up my computer, I was offered a sample of coffee, which I later refilled to meet specifications. I saved some yen, but I then had to have the English-speaking partner indicate to me which store this was. The two partners understood the letter I had been given with no problems, and I was directed down the street and around the corner to another store.
Yes, We Have No Single Bananas!
I went around the corner and spotted the Starbucks, but before heading there I popped into a couple of coffee shops to see what kind of breakfast offerings they had. Nothing looked appealing, so I moved on to a grocery store at the end of the block. I removed a banana from its bunch, as I am used to doing in America, and when I went to pay the cashier exclaimed at me with a surprised expression on her face. She called a coworker, who said they could not sell single bananas. I replied that I just wanted to eat something. She went outside to consult with someone else, and I saw about four of them have a mini-conference. After a few seconds, she came back in and said I could have the banana for 21 yen.
The manager spoke little English, but she did everything she could to provide directions to the next Starbucks. Finally, another partner found a small map of Starbucks in the Ginza area. The manager encouraged me to go upstairs, as I was planning to do anyway. When I did, I realized this was one of the stores that had been pointed out to me in the Starbucks A to Zguide, the only one with a fireplace and with unique decor. The manager also bade me take a Polaroid photo with the partners, which she presented to me as a gift. Finally, she asked if I had seen a couple of special publications--the A to Z guide I had seen, but I got a kick out of a smaller book called Starbucks Maniax that seemed to be filled with quirky Starbucks-related material.
I went upstairs to look around again, and I noticed that the vendor across the street was not a simple grocer, but a wholesale shop, which explained why they did not offer single bananas. Then I put on my Mr. Wizard cap and did some pouring in the bathroom to discover that a Starbucks sample cup holds almost exactly 4 ounces. This meant that I could consider altering the rules of my project to permit having a sample from each location. The trick would be to ensure the sample cup was filled to the top. And then keeping it from spilling when driving.
To the set of symptoms that plagued me had been added the chills. I was shivering even while indoors in my four layers. I felt famished and need to eat anything. So I gave up on my search and settled on McDonald's, on a crappy bacon and egg bagel with some crappy "fresh" orange juice from another coffee shop.
As I waited for a light, I spotted what I guessed was a manhole cover, but what resembled a face crying out in agony. I imagined this was one of a race of creatures that had fallen from space and become trapped in the Japanese cityscape, doomed for eternity to remain unnoticed, crying out for freedom, in frequencies inaudible to ordinary human ears.
I Finally Start Enjoying Myself
I followed the map of the Starbucks in Ginza as best I could until I finally lost my bearings. I walked to one of the primary streets to try and orient myself again when I spotted a lady with a Starbucks cup, and she directed me to the store. I decided to finally try the marshmallow mocha, and a cheese danish to make up for the crappy bagel sandwich. As I sat and shivered and wrote, I imagined the pretty young lady with a somber appearance sitting to my right was staring at me. I'm sure she wasn't, of course, but it couldn't hurt to dream. Maybe she was staring at the Denny's across the street, wondering what it was. I had spotted it on the way to the store, the first such I had seen in Tokyo. It seemed I couldn't get away from Denny's not matter how far I traveled.
When I came back from the restroom I noticed the somber lady had a camera. I debated whether to use this as an excuse to talk to her. Finally I said what the hell and asked her about the brand name, one I did not recognized. She immediately appeared very willing to talk about her camera, and we chatted for the next 30 minutes at least about a variety of topics. Though originally from Japan, she too was visiting Tokyo, from London, where she was currently living and working as a recruiter. Yoko was her name, like Yoko Ono, and I enjoyed finally having a conversation that didn't have to do with Starbucks or directions to someplace.
On the way to the next store, I felt that my chills had disappeared, my headache had abated, and the soreness in my throat had lessed. The day was beautiful, and for a moment I was able to think, "Wow. This is cool. I'm finally in Japan."
I spotted the ubiquitous Starbucks logo sooner than I expected, according to the map I was carrying. I went inside and pointed to my mask, indicating that I was looking for that location. I asked if this store was new, and received an affirmative reply. A partner led me outside and pointed down the street, Miyuki-Dori, towards where that other location was. Then he looked surprised as I went back inside his store.
The short coffee I received included a plastic implement, which I assumed to be a stirrer, covering the drinking hole in the plastic lid. The wooden stirring sticks, by the way, are thicker than those in America, Canada, or the UK.
On the way to the next Starbucks I spotted an interesting looking Nissan model-named "FairladyZ"--not available in the US? Or merely a different name? Further down the street, the Starbucks had a downstairs packed with wall-to-wall honeys. Once more "OPP" started running through my head, and I still couldn't figure out why. The temperature had warmed up enough that I had to remove my undershirt and hope that my chills did not return. While in the bathroom, I noticed that the warm air hand dryer was of a completely different style, requiring one to dip his hands between the two blowers. There was no room to rub hands, so presumably one was to dip them in and out? I tried this, and I felt thoroughly weird.
On the way to the Ginza Corridor Street store, I spotted an art gallery, the Ginza Graphic Gallery. It contained two floors of paintings and drawings that were... different.
At the Starbucks, I noticed that the sink to the single bathroom was exposed to the store, rendering it useless for personal washing.
On the way to the next store, I noticed that the foundation for the rail tracks and freeway was used for a variety of businesses. In front of the Starbucks, I was captivated by a large reflective sphere and the cool glass building behind it. Then I snapped a couple more photos of me and myself, as requested by the cousins back home.
After a couple more stores it was time for some food, and I settled on a crappy chili dog and fries from a place called First Kitchen. I spotted a poster for the experimental Lars von Trier film Dogville starring Nicole Kidman. I had heard about its screening at Cannes on NPR back in May of 2003, and I wondered if it was currently being released in the U.S., or if I needed to see it here in Tokyo.
Enjoyment Replaced by Fatigue
At the next store I was feeling exhausted. Not jet lagged, I didn't think, because I had slept so much the previous evening. But wysically tired. My feet and my body hurt, aside from the sinus infection. I had to sit on the couch for a spell before pressing on. It did not help that when I got to the end of the block and started looking for the Marunouchi Bldg, I remembered I had to go back and take the photo I had forgotten.
I finally found the Marunouchi Bldg, where there is a Nikon digital photographi exhibition. I was tempted to spend my reserves on a digital SLR right then and there so I could start taking better photos while in Japan. How stupid would that be? Instead, I head up to the 35th floor for a great (if hazy)view of the city. I was feeling even more exhausted at that point, and my backpack straps were really digging into my shoulders. When I reached the Starbucks in the basement, I noticed a pharmacy and asked if it was allowed to buy antibiotics without a prescription here in Japan. The pharmacist said no, and gave me the phone number for medical information, for setting up an appointment with a doctor. I doubted I'd have the time or energy for that.
I really didn't want another coffee, so I first entered into a type of market with a variety of trendy shops offering specialty foods. I tried to get a type of strawberry cheesecake from one, but the attendant did not seem to understand that I wanted to eat it right away, not to take it home. I think these desserts were intended to be given as gifts. Across the aisle, the set up was the same, but I didn't feel like arguing, so I just let the attendant box it for me so I could go over to the Starbucks for a misto to go with my cake.
"My cheese is a ninja." I don't know what that means, but it just popped into my mind. Maybe I can use it someday. Maybe somebody will pay me lots of money for that line. Hmmm...
As I was leaving the Marunouchi Building, I spotted a pair of fine nubian sisters, the first African-Americans I had seen since my arrival in Japan. They were from Atlanta, in Tokyo visiting a friend at a military installation, and looking for the Four Seasons, so they must have had a bigger budget than me.
I returned to the hotel and moved my suitcase into the Colt room, where Marcus the Swede was conversing with Spencer the Canadian. Marcus wanted to take advantage of its being Friday evening to go out, perhaps to Roppongi. I said I wouldn't decide anything until after I got up from my nap. Spencer seemed to have his Internet connection working. When he disconnected, I tried once more, to no avail, to get online.
The Fire Down Below
Around 11:00 the fire that had been building in my loins became unbearable, surpassing the sinusitis-related discomfort that kept me in bed, and prompting me to go out in search of relief. I felt I would go in-zane if I remained another eight hours in that bed. I cleaned up and got on the Internet, googling for "Tokyo night life". I found a Yahoo! travel page that described five different areas in Tokyo for night life. Kabuki-cho was described as the wildest, and thus my kind of place. It appeared to be only a few miles west on Yusakuni-dori. I started walking, and at the next block I spotted a Starbucks, just minutes from the hotel, that I had completely missed. Then I noticed people heading down into the subway. I had though the trains had stopped running, which is why I had planned on walking, but I was just as glad to save myself the time.
Upon exiting the subway station, I oriented myself and walked up to Yusakuni-dori. I was amazed to find that the street had maintained the same name for over a mile, expecting a situation more like in London, where the streets change names every few blocks. The first order of business was food, and I figured I might as well scope out a Japanese KFC. The two pieces of chicken, biscuit, and soda were ridiculously expensive at 735 yen. I went upstairs to sit down. Having left my book in the room, I had time to observe the other patrons. Most were young, but there were three older people who seemed to have nowhere else to go. One older lady at the counter in front of me seemed to be snoozing, until she got up and moved to another counter, for no apparent reason. To my right was a muscled middle-aged man. He was away at first, but then I saw him lay his head down. And to my left was an older gentleman with his head leaned back and his eyes closed. A heavyset man showed up in a business suit and appeared out of place. Country music was playing. I had had better meals in more appealing places, I have to say.
I left the KFC and continued down the street towards Kabuki-cho, I noticed so many neon signs shining brightly, just like I remember when I had seen Tokyo depicted in film. I wanted to take a photo, but I had intentionally left my camera back in the room in case I was pursued by a gang of Japanese youths at some point during the evening.
I crossed the street, and I was immediately accosted by an accented-English-speaking African thrusting in my direction an ad for some sexually-oriented business. I waved him off, preoccupied with finding a piece of paper on which I could make notes about all there was to see out there. I was surprised that I could not find a flyer stuck on a tree somwhere. I was momentarily distracted by my curiosity about what Man Boo! Internet Comic Cafe was. I imagined some type of stand-up act, but it was just an Internet cafe that sold comic books. I reached the large and crowded Kabukicho intersection and turned right. I spotted a McDonald's and went inside to see what I could find, and I ended up asking a gentleman who had finished his meal for that oversized sheet of paper many restaurants put on their trays. It was blank on the back, and I sat down for a while to catch up on my notes.
Continuing down this street, a primary one, I was accosted by more Africans hawking sex shops. I observed as Japanese men passed by, and the Africans definitely seemed to be zeroing in on the gai-jin like me. Perhaps because the native Japanese could read the signs and already knew where to go. When I turned onto a smaller side street, the sex peddlers began to give me the hard sell, not wanting to let me go. I waved some away, but others stood in my path. When I escaped from one, he might signal to a partner up ahead. One Nigerian was particularly persistent. After he handed me a card to some sort of strip club that worked differently than in America, and I told him I just wanted to walk around, he offered me a "free" look and wanted to walk around with me. It took me a while to shake him. Around the corner, I chatted with a trio of girls hawking "massagi". When they quoted me the price I said thank you and walked away, and they started giggling inexplicably. Then the pesky Nigerian caught with me and followed me to the end of the block, back to the main street, and started making me uncomfortable. I stopped and pulled out a map and just stood there until he left. Later, when I felt I wasn't being watch, I put my wallet in my front pocket. Besides the Africans and the Japanese girls, there was also one Japanese man who quite explicitly described a shower, massage, and blowjob service for 10,000 yen. I was suspicious. It almost goes without saying that I had never encountered such explicit peddling of sex services anywhere in the United States.
I walked to a different area, and a white guy with perhaps a British accent, or maybe Australian, was promoting a dance club, explicitly specifying that it was not a strip club. I told him I was just looking for a restroom, and he told me I could find one in his bar, or down a basement he led me to. I stood in the doorway for a few minutes just in case he sent someone after me to rob me. Paranoid? Maybe, but better safe than sorry. Finally I went downstairs and encountered no resistance.
Across from the Koma Theater was a plaza where groups of street musicians were playing. There is a movie theater, and, appropriately enough, The Last Samurai is playing. Also, Zebraman. On the other side of the plaza were homeless sleeping next to a building. I guessed they were far enough away from the crowds as not to be a hindrance and thus left undisturbed. But I'm just assuming--I really have no idea how the Japanese gub'ment deals with their homeless.
Down another small street, the doormen in front of the Lovers Cafe ignore me. I wonder if this is one of the places I read about on the web that did not cater to gai-jin. Further down, the music under a doorway prompted me to stop and try and figure out if this was the latest Britney Spears single. After a while, I decided it wasn't, but Pink instead. While I stood there, I looked at a sign a few doors down and wondered what a "one-shot bar" was supposed to be. Back at the main intersection, before I started heading back to the hotel, I wondered about these groups of young males that, although dressed in suits, appeared strikingly effeminate nonetheless. Further down, I passed a group of youth dressed like they could be walking the streets of Brooklyn with their hip-hop gear.
As I walked the long distance down Yusakuni-dori I noticed policemen stationed at points along the way. Presumably one of the reasons Japan was supposed to be so safe. I stopped to use a public toilet, and I noticed it afforded little privacy--passersby and cars at the light could easily observe men doing their business. Further down, I noticed a man retching against a wall--just like back in the U.S.
I reached a station named Iidabashi, and it did not seem like I had passed it on the way to Shinjuku, so I walked down a side street to find some light to read my map. A girl approached me about massage--she seemed out of place on such a quiet street. She spoke better English, so I chatted with her for a while. She told me I had beautiful eyes, and I wondered if any part the compliment was genuine, or all intended to get my business. She was disappointed that she had been there for three hours, and business was so slow. The prices were about the same as I had seen elsewhere, except a 1000 yen surcharge would be added because of the late hour. She said she would try to convince her boss to forgo the surcharge, but I decided it was too much trouble and resumed trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel.
I had in fact gotten off course, taking the wrong fork from Ichigaya. Had I taken the correct road, I would have been at the hotel already, in an hour's time. It took me another 15 minutes, maybe 20-30, to correct the detour. Marcus was in the lobby, looking disappointed because he had slept until 1:30 and missed his chance to go out.
A Yucky Start
I felt fairly miserable when I got up Saturday morning. Marcus and Spencer chatted in the bathroom while shaved, and Spencer reported that it was 8:30 AM. I had missed barely an hour of light (since many stores don't seem to open 'til 8:00 on Saturday). My throat did not feel that as sore, but my voice was hoarse and raspy. I wanted a real breakfast. Marcus reported that it might rain Sunday or the next day--I hoped it would hold off until I left.
As I walked to the nearby Starbucks, I realized that for most people, to be sick while traveling would make the trip a complete waste. But in my case, even though I felt miserable, I was still accomplishing my intended purpose. Maybe I would have visited fifteen stores a day if not sick, but I wasn't going to get them all on one trip anyway.
Across the street from the Starbucks was Cafe de Crie, where I found scrambled eggs and toast, but in sandwich form. I don't think they actually scrambled the eggs, but rather microwaved them--yuck.
Just down the block was the Kudanshita subway station where I took the train back to Sinjuku-sanchome where I had seen a Starbucks the previous night. When I had stopped at the bathroom before heading up to the street, I had noticed these very strange urinals set into the floor and requiring more careful aim. I wondered if they also served as toilets. Upon a second look, I guessed they must have, because outside the bathroom were vending machines for toilet tissue. How evil and yet clever--provide the bathroom for free, but charge for the toilet tissue.
Just down the Yusakuni-dori from the Shinjuku store I saw a passageway that led to a temple. The signs said not to sit down because it would be trouble for the worshippers. Me. I walked around Kabuki-cho again to see what it was like in daytime, and it was just as packed, but with a different type of crowd. I was only approached once, by an older Asian man, about a massage service. Heading back to the subway station, I saw a lady carrying a poodle, and I realized that I had not seen very many dogs at all. Or cats, for that matter.
I got back on the subway and took the Marunouchi line to the Tokyo station. I was trying to find an exit to the south so I could visit two Ginza area Starbucks, but I gave up and just went into the Marunouchi Building to find the American Pharmacy I had seen yesterday. I had to wait a while for the English speaking pharmacist to explain to me what the medicines were. I was hoping that with the name "American Pharmacy" that the medications would be labeled in English. I ended up buying a pair of medications for the outrageous price of about $15 apiece for very few pills. Simply outrageous!
While in the building, I bought a scone from one shop and some pretty good OJ from a shop that made juices out of a variety of fruits and vegetables, including KALE, a word that I had previously only seen on a Scrabble word list. I also went back to the Starbucks and received directions to the nearest other location, in the nearby Mitsubishi Building. Before I left, I went back up to the 35th floor to see if I could get a view of the city to the other direction without the sun in my face, but as luck would have it the skies were too hazy to see anything. Still, I wasn't complaining about the weather, as it had been mostly excellent since my arrival.
Aches and Pains
I walked back south to pick up those two other Ginza stores. My legs were really hurting, and it was still early. I managed to misread the map and walk too far, and I had to backtrack. I spotted the Apple store I had seen the previous day, and I went inside for information about where to buy a Wi Fi card. I was given directions to a store down the street and around the corner called Big Camera. I took me away from the Starbucks, so I was irritated that I never saw any such store. I managed to pass up the street I was looking for yet again, and so I just skipped over that Starbucks and went to the next one, next to the Kyobashi Station. Five hours so far, and I had only visited three stores. And I was exhausted. And my nuts really hurt.
I visited the next three stores without a break, except for a detour when I spotted a Sofmap, the other store the Apple attendant had mentioned. I found a couple of brands of Wi Fi card for under $30, but then I became worried about the instructions not being in English, and support if I had trouble once I returned to America, so I decided it was worth the extra money back in America to avoid the hassle.
I sat down at the 28th store to catch up on my writing, and I just felt so drained. I was not sleepy at all--just tired. I just needed two more stores to more or less be on track for 50 by Monday night, but I really didn't want to move, nor drink more coffee. I was relieved, then, to discover a clump of fours store, all in office buildings, just up the street near the Otemachi station. On the way there, I noticed the contrast of styles between these two buildings. I walked too far, stumbled across one, and there received directions to the others. I visited two more, and then discovered the third was closed on Saturday.
Thirty-one was enough for me, so I decided to head back. Instead of getting on the subway, I decided to walk in the direction of the Imperial Palace. What I saw in front of me from Otemachi was not the palace itself, though, but the East Gardens, and they were closed. I started to walk around to the other side, and then I decided I was just too tired for that, and I backtracked and took the subway back to the hotel.
I checked and responded to e-mail for about ten minutes, and in that time the cigarette smoke pervasive in the lobby invaded my lungs to such a degree that I was overcome with a fit of coughing that persisted for many minutes after I went downstairs to complain to the guys in the room. Spencer commented that cigarettes cost only 120 yen a pack, a pittance compared to Canada and the $US, and that at those prices even he was tempted to start smoking. Well, for my part, if they started handing out cyanide tablets for a nickel apiece, that doesn't mean I'd start up that habit.
I slept until maybe 9:30, and then I decided to check out one of the other night life areas I had seen listed, this time Shibuya. As I was about to leave, I overheard a pair of Australian girls who had just arrived asking the attendant about where to go, and I heard mention of "Shibuya". I debated whether to see if they wanted to come with, but they looked like they would be at least an hour in getting ready, so I just left.
I arrived at the Shibuya station and chose, for no apparent reason, the Hichako Crossing exit. The first thing I noticed was a plaza just outside the station, and vendors hawking a variety of wares. Then I turned around an saw an undending sea of people coming towards me. After a few seconds, I realized the flow was not unending--it was just throngs of people crossing the intersection, after which it was clear for cars. It was the first such time I had seen an intersection such as this, with the walk signals for pedestrians in all six directions--both perpendiculars and the diagonal.
I was excited to finally see the overwhelming crowds that I had associated with past images of Tokyo. I spotted the Starbucks right away, the busiest in the world, and I went ahead and crossed the street to get it out of the way. I was miffed that this store, unlike the others I had visited, did not offer a short size coffee, but what was I to do?
I had to return to the plaza and retrieve the map I had set down to take a photo, and then I went a-walking. Behind a department store--I'm not sure if it's called Seibu or Tsutaya--several rock bands were set up. I guess they had to be playing something loud rock, in order to be heard above the noise of the crowds. Down another side street I spotted a sign for Super World Health, or something like that, an unusually-named strip club or hostess club or similar-type establishment I'd read about on the web. I walked up the stairs to find a sign posted stating what I had also read about, that the business catered only to Japanese customer--no gai-jin like me. As if the sign weren't enough, as I read it, a Japanese gentleman came down the stairs and apologized as he directed me back down and stated the place was only for Japanese. Though I had heard of these places, I still could not help be feeling discriminated against.
Down another side street, I was hit up again, like the previous night in Kabukicho, for a free look at one of these sex shops, only this time the peddler was Asian. l agreed to the free look, but I made it known I would need to get money from an ATM. As I suspected, the guy didn't want to get me up there without money, and he pointed me to the ATM inside the Lawson's convenience store. I said later, and he, with a reluctant look on his face, still led me into a building and up an elevator. I immediately disliked the setup, for its lack of escape routes, as I didn't at all trust this guy. We were met at the entrance of the establishment by a guy whose lips were marred by these horrible black outgrowths which I could only assume to be herpes, or some other dread disease. I thought this was a very poor business practice, to give this guy a job up from where the customers could see him. I was led into a small room and shown a book of many young ladies. I had seen all I wanted to see, and I put my escape plan in place--I simply asked if any of the ladies spoke English, explaining I liked to talk. I figured any lady who spoke English would probably not be working in such an establishment. The gentlemen apologized that no one spoke English, and I was led back to the elevator, wallet intact.
I continued walking and I stumbled across another Starbucks, and got it out of the way, even though I'd have to return the next day to get a better photograph. Further down, I turned down another side street and entered a veritable maze of alleyways offering dozens of hotels offering two rates--a cheaper rate for "rest" and a more expensive "to stay" rate. Some of the hotels had romantic-type names, and others had valentines or other signs out front indicating that these might be the pay-by-the-hour love hotels I had read about. I saw plenty of couples going in and out of them as I walked around.
I returned to the main street by the Starbucks and decided I could go for some food, in part because I wanted to check the current time on the receipt and see how long I had. The burger, from a place called "Freshness Burger" was rather crappy. And the Coca-cola, from a vending machine outside, did not seem to taste like Coke back in the U.S. As I ate, two Asians passed buy talking in perfect unaccented English, the first such instance that I had encountered since my arrival.
The time on the receipt indicated that I needed to start heading back, so I made my way towards the subway station. On the way I spotted a pair of girls advertising massage. The basic price was the same as I had seen advertised on signs throughout the city, $60, but these girls also specified that "service" was available. I was not sure was this "service" was, and they clarified that it was a hand job, making the universal gesture. That much English at least they knew. I asked the price, and was astonished to hear 30,000 yen, or about $300. I wondered who paid those kind of prices and moved on. Later, when I returned to the States and was running my experiences through my mind, I wondered if I had misheard her, and if the price really had been 3000 yen, or $30. Throughout my stay in Tokyo I kept misconverting yen by that factor of 10, and I almost ended up putting $200 on my Starbucks card (which I would not have been able to bring back to the U.S.) until the barista caught my error.
I ended up waiting too long to board the subway, because suddenly the train stopped, and an very excited-looking attendant went running from car to car shouting something which made the passengers get off quickly. For a moment, I thought we might be the victims of some terrorist gas attack, but no one else seemed to be accordingly alarmed. I spotted one attendant holding some guy up, and I thought there might have been an incident, but then I thought maybe the guy had just fallen asleep on the train. In the end, I decided the train had just finished its service for the night, and that I would have to walk the rest of the way. I really hadn't walked to walk a great distance, but I had little choice, unless I wanted to spend the money on a taxi, and I generally don't like taxis for being too expensive. So I hoofed it back, arriving later than I'd hoped, but earlier than the previous night.
Stillwind the California-born Hawaiian returned in the morning--I assumed he was working an all-night job. I asked the time--around 8:00 AM. I laid down again, but then decided I felt well enough to forgo more sleep. I also wanted to try for a good photograph of the Shibuya Tsutaya store before the intersection became crowded.
As I prepared to leave, the Australian in the bed next to me asked if I had a lot of yen that I could exchange. I had overheard him state the previous night that his bank card was not working. I felt grateful for the lozenges, but I was running low on yen myself and was not certain if I would find someplace to exchange currency on Sunday.
It was close to 9:00 when I reached Shibuya, and there were already too many people out, and too much traffic, for me to get the photo I wanted. I suspected I would have to visit in the middle of summer and arrive very early to find the intersection empty. So I did what I could and moved on to the other store I had visited the previous night, getting lost in the process. As I walked up the wrong street, I noticed the contrast between what was most visible last night, the crowds, and what was most visible in the morning, the trash left over from the night's revelry.
Meanwhile I looked around for a place where I could get eggs and some bread. I was really craving French toast. I was thinking I might break down and find a Denny's after all. I went into a boulangerie and was pleased to see the menu in French (and Japanese). I did not see eggs on the menu, and it took asking three different waiters to get my question across and learn that they did not in fact serve eggs.
After photographing the Shibuya Bunkamura-dori store I went inside and asked for directions to the closest store. These I followed easily enough. I wanted to eat before having coffee, and I had not yet spotted a suitable place, so I just settled for a scone from the Starbucks. A barista there spoke decent English and was able to point out all but one of the Shibuya stores on my map.
A couple of stores later I ran into the a Starbucks offering Internet access, in partnership with a broadband ISP with which they shared space. Saved myself 100 yen and was able to catch up on some e-mail. At another store it occurred to me that at the rate I was going, I might not use up the balance on the Starbucks card I had been given, plus the non-refundable balance I had on my own card, so I might as well use for an overpriced 80-yen banana.
In the 30-45 minutes I had spent in the Fire Street store, it had gotten much warmer. As soon as I stepped outside I had to stop and untie my long-sleeved shirt from my waist and store it in my backpack, along with the undershirt I had removed earlier, so I could then tie my coat around my waist, as it was definitely t-shirt weather. I definitely wasn't complaining about the sun and heat, but I wondered why I had left the hotel with four layers to begin with.
I walked all the way to the entrance to Mark City before realizing I had forgotten to photograph the Fire Street store and had to go back. I didn't care all that much, because I would hit forty stores before leaving Shibuya and easily visit more than fifty before departing the next evening.
At the Mark City location I was, for the first time in Tokyo, not charged for my half short coffee.
Ironically, Piano Novices Start with "Chopsticks"
I was determined to eat some Japanese food before leaving. Down a smaller street from Mark City I spotted a picture of a dish that didn't look bad--noodle soup with some type of meat and rice. There were a couple of logistical difficulties to overcome before I tried the place out, though. From observing another customer, I figured out that the vending machine outside the door produced tickets used to order a meal. I could not read the writing on the machine, so I had to go inside and ask the cute young cook. She came outside with me and I pointed to the dish I wanted, and she pointed to the correct button--500 yen. Inside, I quickly realize there would be no forks--only chopsticks. I had only been to Asian restaurants infrequently in my life, and they always offered forks. Nor did I see napkins, so I dug some tissues out of my backpack. The man to my left had the right idea--he had his own face towel which he used to wipe off the sweat, because in order to get the noodles from the bowl to his mouth with the chopsticks he had to bring his face close to the hot bowl. I couldn't figure out how to eat the noodles without slurping, but the man to my left didn't seem to have a problem with slurping, and no one seemed to be paying attention anyway. I had to put my book aside in order to concentrate on the food. Nevertheless, I almost choked and spewed towards the end of my meal when I slurped a little too hard and took soup down the wrong pipe. The meal, the part that didn't spill down my chin, that is, ended up being pretty good, though I was doubtful that it was worth the trouble.
On the other side of the train tracks, after visiting a take-away only location, I had to negotiate a network of elevated walkways that took pedestrians over one of the largest intersections I had ever seen. At the Cross Towers store I got clearer directions to the Shibuya 3-chome store. I went outside, and the wind had picked up dramatically, now coming in strong gusts. Nearby a child wailed--I wasn't sure if it was the boy, in delight, or the younger girl in her mother's arms, in fear. In a corner of the building's terrace kneeled a youngster adding a message to the dozens already covering the brick. This was surprising because I had seen a security guard patrolling the terrace earlier. Perhaps the free expression was sanctioned?
Despite the directions, I walked down the wrong street, towards Roppongi. The barista had said the store was five minutes down the road, but I might have walked ten before I realized I had gone astray. I doubled back, turned on the correct street, and finally found the correct store. Now I just had one more Shibuya store to go, and I found the 2-chome store much more easily. By the time, I reached it and sad down to catch up on my writing, it was 4:00 PM, and I was at 41 stores and wondering how much further I should press. I really felt like just sitting there, but there was still daylight.
Back under the train station, among the row of shops I spotted an odd looking kiosk called Beard Papa, and serving cream puffs. I had not imagined that a food product named cream puff actually existed. I had to try one. First I bought a drink from the vending machine to wash the pastry down. I could not read the writing, so I chose the one with the picture of a lemon. To my great surprise, when I grabbed the bottle, it was HOT!!! Who ever heard of a vending machine dispensing hot drinks? A hot lemon drink--nasty. At least the cream puff was okay, if messy.
I decided if I was going to visit a few more stores, I would have to get off my feet for a while. I took it on faith that I'd be able to deal with the language issue and decided to go for one of the massage places anyway, one with a picture of a foot massage on the sign. I made sure they took my credit card, and that the oil massage would be more like Swedish, not the painful Shiatsu style. It was mostly as I expected, except when the masseuse covered me in towels and proceeded to walk on my legs and back. I experienced momentary alarm as I thought of the pain I'd been having on the right side of my body, pain which for some reason had ceased pretty much around the time the first symptom of my sinus infection had begun on Monday. I also couldn't help but think of one of the scenes from Charlie's Angels (an early scene, because I'm sure I left within 15-30 minutes) in which Lucy Liu's character abuses a helpless victim in that same manner. I survive, of course, and when I resume my course towards the next Starbucks my feet don't hurt as much. Though I am worried about my credit card balance, because they had a problem with the machine and let me pay with dollars, ensuring me that the credit card transaction had not been processed.
While at an intersection I spotted two girls, possibly the same two I had seen earlier that day, with faces painted like in some show, with dark makeup, bright glittery stuff around the eyes, and white lips. I spot a white guy and ask if he speaks English. He does, and I ask if he knows what's up with those faces. He explains it's a fashion, and that the makeup is supposed to light up in the black lights in a dance club. By coincidence, the guy is American, and from Texas. From a Houston suburb, in fact. I'm amused by the coincidence, but he seems like he could not care less. So I don't even attempt small talk and just walk on ahead.
As I crossed the Hichako crossing intersection, fire sirens start blaring and a truck heads towards the crowd. I rushed to the other side and then look to see if the pedestrians are scattering, but they don't seem alarmed at all. It's gonna suck for one of them if it's his abode on fire, I thought.
My destination was the Omotesando store, but before I reached it I spotted another Starbucks down a side street. I decided I wanted food before coffee, and I tried the Italian restaurant behind me. But they didn't accept credit cards for less than 8000 yen. That's about $80, and I found it ridiculous--I've never seen a business have such a large minimum for credit cards. But that's okay, because across the street was a Spanish restaurant, and I crosssed quickly in anticipation of a good meal. But they didn't accept credit cards at all. I still had 1000 yen + coins, enough for a meal, but I didn't want to leave myself yenless, so I settled on a muffin from the Starbucks.
I alarmed the two baristas as I paced the store looking for a power outlet. I finally spotted one, and when I plugged it in and began to run the cord to my table in the corner, one of them rushed over to ensure that it was tucked behind the bean display, to prevent any sort of accident and ensuing lawsuit. Of course I would have done it myself, if he had just relaxed and observed for moment.
I asked of the baristas where the Omotesando store is, and when she takes me outside to direct me down the principal street, I feel drops of water on my face. I become slightly alarmed about my computer, and think that the good weather party is finally ending. I quickly leave, and I decide to push forward rather than backtracking to the Shibuya station. Fifteen seconds later, I spot the Omotesando station. Fifteen seconds after that, I spot the Starbucks. As I wait to cross the street a pair of blondes arrive. Due to the wind, the one's voice was not clear, but I thought I heard English. I asked if they were Americans, and the one looks insulted and replies something like "Do we sound like we speak good English" or something. They say something to each other in a language that now sounds like eastern European. I am reminded of a conversation from last night in the room, during which Spencer mentions to Marcus that while traveling Canadians often place a maple leaf on their backpacks, Americans don't usually do the same. I shout out that I'd never identify myself as an American on my clothing, for reasons that are clear to the three of us. I suppose that asking strangers if they are Americans is equally unwise--best just to ask where they are from.
The Starbucks turned out to be a different one, and I saw on my list that there are two Omotesando stores. The other one would have to wait--I decided to call it quits for the night. And it was a good thing, because as I took the photo, larger raindrops were falling, and I rushed to the subway station at the end of the block. Later, at the hostel, I spotted the Australian girls in the bathroom, and their clothing was wet (never a bad thing), and they explained that it was pouring rain out in Roppongi.
I returned to the hostel not long after 9:00 and proceeded to spend the next several hours chatting with Spencer, Marcus, and the Australian girls. I should not have talked so much, because my throat began to hurt worse, even though my symptoms had eased during the day, and in fact I had not coughed up any blood in my phlegm all day.
During those hours I decided to reveal my secret identity, my purpose for being in Japan. In turn I learned that Marcus (Gustafsonn (sp?)) was a Guiness world record holder, for doing 93 push-ups on the tips of his fingers in 1 minute. And that he had an obsession with Howard Hughes and Elvin Presley, wanting to stay at the same hotels they had.
The Final Day
Sleepy was I still when I woke and saw sunlight and then went upstairs to check the time--a bit past 7:00. Sleep on the plane expected I to get, so from the bed to rise sense did it make. Into the hallway did I my things take, so that after the shower pack my suitcase could I. Once again bloody phlegm coughing up was I, and worry me it did. After my shower, into the bathroom in matching robes the Australian girls entered, and anything would I have given into the shower for an invitation with the one of bustiness. Things into my suitcase arrange did I, then upstairs in the lobby left it until to the airport for my departure to return.
I decided to head up to Iidabashi, expecting to pass the Denny's I had spotted the other night. But I never passed it, so I settled on a crappy egg/cheese/sausage croissant from a British-pub-themed fast-food restaurant named Becker's, where I had a cashier direct me to the Starbucks. I did not feel like explaining myself to the partners, so I just took it on faith that if I walked towards Suidobashi I'd run into one of the stores listed, and a few minutes later I did. Further down, I spotted what looked like an amusement park, and I became mildly excited, thinking back to a photo I had seen on the community board of a Starbucks in the Tampa area. The photo depicted a Starbucks in front of what appeared to be a roller coaster. I did not recognize it as being anywhere in the U.S., and the barista I asked said it was from Japan. I had been looking forward to visiting it, and I hoped it would be here, at the Tokyo Dome City. It was!
Inside the Starbucks, I asked the barista how to say "excuse me", something like "sumi ma se", which I used to indicate to a gentleman to slide his chair over so that I could plug in my computer. Just before 10:00, a group of schoolgirls entered the Starbucks, and I wondered why they were not in school on a Monday morning. Outside, an older gentleman walked up to the door with the freakiest looking dog with wiry brown hair. I couldn't remember every having seen such a breed of dog in America. I had to check myself and stop being so intrigued, remembering that dog ownership is a sign of weakness. Later, outside, the strange dog was being very playful with a dachsund that appeared on a leash led by a woman, the man's wife perhaps. The dachsund just looked confused as the strange dog bounced all around it. Damn it! I was doing it again--taking notice of those nasty dogs.
I asked of the baristas for instructions to the Iidabashi I-GARDEN TERRACE store, and as I expected, I went the wrong way and missed it. But it's not yet failed me in Tokyo that there be another Starbucks in place of the one I seek, so I ran into the Suidobashi Nishi-dori store, and from there go directions to the other.
I wasted about an hour, at least, trying to find the Iidabashi Metropia store. I thought it would be some large building in a neighborhood called Kagurazaka. But I passed up the street for Kagurazaka by quite a distance, and as I walked back I was amazed as to how I could have missed it. I walked up Kagurazaka-dori and spotted a bank, and decided to go ahead and obtain the extra yen that I would need for food and the trip back to the airport. I asked for directions to Metropia and was told to go back where I had come from. I broke down and asked at the first Iiadabashi store I had visited earlier in the morning, and I was directed down into the subway. Down in the subway I saw nothing, and I asked a young lady who directed me back to the Karukozaka store. She did not seem to understand I was looking for a different Starbucks. I had predicted just this scenario and chuckled about it with my coworkers. I didn't seem so funny when it was actually happening and feet hurt. Finally I saw something Metropia and began to get excited. I walked further and saw the Starbucks, and then saw that it was on the other side of a barrier, requiring me to buy a ticket for one of two lines. I examined my now-torn-in-half subway map to see which line my take me somewhere useful, and I decided on the Namboku line, to Roppongi. At the Starbucks the barista spoke some English with the most American-like accent I had heard thus far. Me in the subway.
Outside the Roppongi-itchome station, I did not immediately spot a Starbucks. After some looking around, I spotted a sign for Ark Hills and remember having seen it in my list of stores. I worked my way through a bridge and maze of buildings and passageways and found the Starbucks. I wanted food first, so I decided to take the hit and go for the more expensive Italian restaurant in this posh building--1200 yen for the spaghetti carbonara that I was trying for the first time was a risk, but it wasn't bad. Still prefer good old spaghetti and meatballs, though. And the restaurant was a little too shi-shi for my tastes anyhow. And I experienced momentary panic as I looked around for my coat until I realized the waitress had hung it up for me. Good as the weather was here, I fully expected freezing temperaturs back at JFK.
At the Starbucks, finally my fiftieth of the trip, I got directions to Roppongi Hills, which I think is the store I was told to go see. At Roppongi Hills I visited two stores, and I decided it was time to head back. Before I left I noticed that there was an art museum, and a city view from a tall building, and I wished I had visited sooner so I would have had time to check them out.
The Roppongi station would not take me directly back to Jimbocho, so I decided to save a transfer fare by walking to a nearby station. On the way I spotted another Starbucks and decided I could spare a few minutes to pick up a 53rd store. But after a while of walking and not seeing the subway station, I stopped to get my bearings and realized the only reason I had passed that last Starbucks was because I had walked the wrong way! I asked the time of a youth, and it was 4:00. I began to panic as I walked/jogged back up the road, up hill to Roppongi. I went ahead and took the Hibiya line from the Roppingi station and then transfered to the Mita line. I had hoped to say goodbye ot Spencer and Marcus and get some photos, especially of the Australian girls, but I had no time for that. I just rushed in, grabbed my suitcase, dropped off my keycard, and headed back to the station. The waits as I switch trains several times was agonizing, and I was sure I was going to miss my flight. It was 5:33 when the limited express to the airport arrived (as scheduled), and I hoped the trip would only take 30 minutes. But it took an hour, and as the minutes dragged on, I decided I would be better off not taking my suitcase. So when the train emptied a bit, I transfered the essentials (especially my Starbucks shirts) to my backpack, ditching my pajamas, underwear and socks. As soon as the train arrived at the Narista Airport station I rushed out. As I approached the station exit I saw a sign stating bags would be searched upon exit, so I ducked into a restroom and left my bag there, to be blown up later by explosives experts I was sure. Later it would occur to me that I should have removed the tag with my name and phone #. My legs, already tired from the day's walking, burned as I raced up to the departure lobby on the fourth floor. I couldn't find American Airlines listed on the board, so I asked an attendant, who must have realized my flight was about to depart and led me to the counter. I had to wait anxiously to see if they would accept me, and thankfully they did. Then the attendant trotted quickly as she led me to and through security, and then customs, and finally to another attendant that led me to the gate. I was sweaty, but I could finally relax.
I was relieved to have made the flight, but disappointed to see that the plane was pretty much full. I thought I had specified an aisle seat when I booked the flight, but I ended up one off from the aisle. The girl sitting there though never showed any irritation during the numerous times I had to slide past her (or over her when she slept) to use the restroom. I don't know what exactly it was, but after all that running, suddenly my throat was even more sore, and I was beset with a persistent irritation and cough. I told the girl it was a sinus infection and not contagious, but she spoke little English so I doubt she understood. Despite my not being able to lay down, I slept quite well during the flight, and had rather vivid dreams. Interestingly enough, first I dreamed that upon returning to the US I had decided to go to China at the last minute. In the dream, I slept on the plane, and I had a dream within a dream, that the pilot was flying to low, just above a highway, and was going to start hitting things. I awoke, in the dream, and the lady sitting next to me assured me we were okay. Then we we arrived in China, after a long taxi, or shuttle trip, from the airport, I ended up in some encampment trying to figure out where the Starbucks were, because I had left without making a list.
As the flight was departing, I was starting to feel a little flush, and that combined with my caugh made me worry I was going to experience other symptoms that would make the flight intolerable. But my fears went unrealized, and a little over twelve hours later we were on the ground at JFK. The plane had been full of Japanese, and I was relieved to have a US passport as I passed the long line through immigration. My line moved quickly, and though the agent pulled me aside into a room, I was only there for a minute before they let me move on. Still, it was a tense moment, as all such dealings with law enforcement are, because I never know when they are going to discover my true identity and incarcerate or deport me.
Minutes later, I was on the AirTrain to the long term parking lot, and not long there after on my way out of the airport, relieved to be back.
During my trip, and upon my return, I was asked what my impressions were of Tokyo. The honest truth is that I found it to be not all that different from other cities I have visited, like New York or London. There are differences in architecture, I'm sure, but I do not have a good idea for that type of thing. There were differences in how people behaved, I think, but I've seen people in so many different places that they all pretty much just seem like people to me--basically the same everywhere you go. As with the architecture, I'm sure there are deep differences, but these were not obvious to me in the short time I was there, and not from the cursory, surface, interactions I had with the Japanese.
A few days later, I realized why "OPP" kept running through my mind. It was an associated with another Naughty by Nature song, "Guard Your Grill", in which Tokyo is mentioned.