Dec 1, 2006

Japan Trip Day 1: "The City of Blinding Lights"

"Zooropa. . .it's cold outside, but brightly lit
Zooropa. . .skip the subway
Zooropa. . .let's go overground."
"Zooropa" by U2

Listening to that song, I always imagined the bright lights, the neon glow, the overstimulated modern glare of modern Tokyo. I knew that one day I'd go there and I'd listen to that song and finally put the music and the image together. And I did. My U2-themed journey to Tokyo began on Tuesday, November 28 in a shower of electronica and neon. . .

I was able to get the "Zooropa" track playing over this video by holding the earphone of my ipod up to the camera mike while I filmed. Low-tech, but it worked!
Like a lot of memorable journeys this three day adventure in Japan felt like it was over as soon as it began and also felt as if it had lasted a year. So much life, so much adventure, so many new experiences packed into a small space of time tends to do that, I guess.

Below are some excerpts from my pen and paper Journal written during moments on the bus or train or waiting for same:

11:22 A.M. Nagoya Time (12:22 P.M) Saipan, Tuesday, November 28, 2006
"A very brief layover in Nagoya. I'm practicing my Japanese...

Thank You (very much)--(do-mo) arrigato go-zai-masu
Excuse Me--su-mi ma-sen
Good Day-Kon-ni-chi-wa
Where is the internet?--wa do-ko de-ska internet?
Do you speak English?-ei-go ga wa ka ri ma ska?

What I saw of Nagoya, Japan. With only an hour layover there wasn't a chance to see much else.

Back on the plane...I enjoy traveling. I like airports (maybe planes not so much), I like going new places of course (or going home. Traveling today has made me miss Mom, Dawn, Vince and maybe wish I was going to see them. It would've been so great if I were meeting them in Japan and Dawn and I were going to see the U2 show together). But I also like that when I travel I can do things I'm normally too busy to do: read, listen to music, watch movies. I like the lack of responsiblity--after all somebody else is flying the plane. People bring me food. I can sleep if I want. Certainly air travel is quite confining but it's also quite freeing in a way. I like seeing all the different people (though I don't always feel like actually meeting them). One guy on my flight, sitting across the aisle from me is a very talkative Japanese fellow from California wearing jeans, zorries, and a red and tan striped shirt. He seems like he hasn't traveled a whole lot and is about clueless. He's hit me with a barrage of questions: "What's the local time?" "How long till we depart?" "Why do we have to get off the plane only to get on the same plane again?"

The flight attendant is speaking briskly in Japanese. I just have such a fascination with Japan. I love the language, it's muted, softened choppiness. I like the food--the sharp tang of wasabi, the salty flavor of sushi, and the pungency of fresh ginger. I'm intrigued by the ancient beauty of it's traditional culture and the hypermodern world of today's Japan. I hope to see some of each world during my brief stay.

2:00 P.M. Tokyo Time, Narita International Airport,waiting for bus to take me to Tokyo.

Listening to Pop [a 1997 U2 album full of electronica experimentation and some of the darkest U2 lyrics ever written] and waiting for the bus on an overcast, brisk afternoon in Japan.

Money will definitely be tight. The 3000 yen (a little less than $30 USD) bus ticket definitely cut into my liquidity. Especially since I know I'll need at least that much to get back here on Thursday. I will need to use the credit card--judiciously--whenever I can for food so I can save my cash--right now a lone 10,000 yen (about $88.50 USD)bill--for travel expenses.

3:32 P.M. Enroute to Shibuya, Tokyo via bus.

Listening to "Wake Up Dead Man" [a track from Pop. Like I said: dark] and catching glimpses of the scenery. They've got these high walls on either side of the highway which make it difficult to see much of anything except in the occasional gaps. What I've seen is reminiscent of highway views in the U.S.: field browned over for the winter, trees with leaves turned but not yet fallen, factories and industrial areas, scattered residential homes. The one thing that is very different and makes a big difference is the distinctly Japanese architecture of virtually all the private residences--the tiled roofs with upturned corners, the graceful, elegant designs, the long rectangular shapes of the buildings themselves. They look nothing like Ohio and keep the landscape distinctly foreign. Gorgeous! The Japanese are just so cool!

This photo of the cityscape of Saitama was actually taken on Weds from the second level of the Saitama Super Arena but I include it here because it gives a real sense of how the traditional Japanese architechtural style holds on in the smaller buildings as described in my journal entry on Tuesday.

Some "ordinary" Japanese architecture.

10:46 P.M. Marroad Inn Omiya, Saitama, Japan,

Well, I made it. It really wasn't too bad. Thanks to the help of a number generous stangers and God's guidance and protection, I'm safe in my little room at the Marroad Inn in Saitama. It's not quite the capsule hotel but it's certainly a small room. The money is holding out so far. I've still got 7000 yen left and I don't forsee big expenses tomorrow. A big experience, yes, but that's been long bought and paid for.

Driving in to Tokyo at dusk was a marvelous thing. Sunset came early. By five it was dark and as we entered the city, we had an x-ray view of the myriad office towers. It was almost surreal to be able to look in at literally thousands of people at work in fluorescent lit office-spaces, hunched over computers in warrens of cubicles, gathered around a conference table. A lone woman rises from her desk and walks purposefully to some crucial task. We could see it all. In one particular building almost every room was full of people and it looked as if someone had torn down the wall revealing an ant farm of humanity. I remember being struck by how many people there were. I also noted that everyone seemed very industrious. I never saw anyone yukking it up around a water cooler.

Views of Shibuya Crossing

I ended my bus ride in Shibuya Station and that was a phenomenal sight! It was like a Japanese version of what I imagine Times Square to be like: massive TV screens, a riot of neon advertisements, bright, bright, bright lights. Indeed it was "cold outside but brightly lit." And the crossing itself. . .waves people moving en masse. I was listening to "Zooropa" [the opening track of 1993 U2 album by the same name, a marked departure for them into the world of electronica and sonic experimentation. NOT very accessible on first listen] just like I planned.The environment wasn't as overstimulating as I expected to be though, and I found it's own cold, man-made kind of beauty. I walked a bit in the neighborhood, found an internet cafe and whatnot, and was amazed by the brightness of the lights, it was almost like being indoors.

Crossing Shibuya crossing

At the the internet cafe in Shibuya. When I'm traveling I try to keep it cool and not look too excited. As you can tell.

Walking back from the Internet Cafe

The famed statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station. Here's the story of Hachiko as told in the 1996 Fodor's Japan Guidebook: "Hachiko was an Akita, a Japanese breed of dog. Every day he walked his master, a professor at Tokyo University, to Shibuya Station. In the evening, he would return to the station and greet his master off the train. One day in 1925, while at the university, the professor died of a stroke. Every evening for the next seven years, the dog went to the station and waited until the last train had pulled out of the station. Crestfallen, the dog would return to his home to try again the next evening. Then the dog died, too, and his story made the national newspapers. Gifts flooded in. A bronze statue was built, and the dog was stuffed to keep vigil in the Tokyo Museum of Art. The statue seen today is a replica; the original was melted down for its metal in World War II."

Looking past the statue of Hachiko back to Shibuya Station crossing.

Right as I snapped this photo, he screens on these buildings flashed bright white as the picture changed creating this pretty cool image.

Around 7:00 P.M., I left Shibuya and began my Odyssey to Saitama. A helpful Japanese businessman got me started--two businessmen actually. One told me what train stations to take, the other told me fare I should by. At Ikebukoro two kind women, an older matron and what I took to be her middle-aged daughter helped me find the next train I'd need--a thanks, I think, for me giving up my seat for them on the last train. And so I got here around 9, went to another internet cafe to let Babs know I'd gotten safely to my hotel. And that brings me to now. I'm fine except that my left knee is really bothering me. It's stiff and swollen and hurts when I bend it. I think a day of sitting in cramped spaces has taken it's toll. I fear that as I grow older this knee is going to be a real problem...

A rather blurry photo of me on the train from Shibuya to Saitama taken by the ladies I gave up my seat for and who later helped me find the correct connecting train.

My room at the Marroad Inn Omiya in Saitama, Japan. Home for the next two nights. The hotel was plain but clean and the service friendly and professional. The rooms of course, were tiny, as you can see. This one was about the size of Dawn's walk-in closet, but they were comfortable and I had no complaints, and sixty dollars a night including breakfast in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I thought I did pretty well.

The bathroom in my hotel room. Kind of cozy, really. You step up into it, and close the door and with the shower it's like your own private sauna. The sink and shower used the same water source, so to take a shower you turned on the sink, then flipped the shower nob and the water shifted to the showerhead. After a long day exploring Japan it was nice to take a long hot shower. The toilet had a "shower" option as well with options to "shower" the "front" and the "back" while you sat on it. I wasn't brave enough to experiment with those features!

I used the timer to take this self portrait of me in my room at the Marroad Inn Omiya Hotel at the end of my first day of adventures in Japan.


Ken & Crystal said...

Nice pics of the big city! It looks like you had fun exploring. Japan is cool!
Ken and Crystal

Saipan Chamoale said...

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Anonymous said...

You're so cute! All your self portraits. That was great! So much detail...makes it all come alive for those of us back at home. Thanks! Japan looks amazing!


Anonymous said...

Hey, love the photos and the thoughts. I just came across your blog by chance looking for something else. Spent 7 years in Japan - the last 2 years with a mission organization. Just a thought, but did you know the Bible says that when we pray to other "gods" our worship actually goes to demons? I made a conscious decision early on not to visit temples. My question to myself was, if God saved me from sure death, how would He feel if I then went to marvel at places that were dedicated to false gods?