Lost in Tokyo
Tokyo – It's huge, exciting, fun, and almost nothing makes sense. There's so much I could talk about. First though, the story of my first 8 hours:
For most of the trips I go on, I won't make concrete plans. I'll have a general idea about what I'm going to do and where I'll stay, but that's about it. I like winging it.
Well, winging it doesn't work so well in Tokyo, especially if the only Japanese word you know is "Konichiwa". It became quickly apparent that my level of preparation was severely lacking. Honestly, I was about one mistake away from spending my first night sleeping on the streets.
The underground labyrinth
It took about an hour for my Shinkansen (Japansese word for really fast train) to arrive from the airport into Tokyo. My hostel was about a mile and a half away, so I figured I would enjoy a leisurely stroll through Tokyo before getting there.
I stepped off the train, and what stood before me was an underground labyrinth unlike anything I had ever seen. There were signs plastered all over the floors, ceilings, and walls. They pointed every which way with numbers, symbols, and names of places that I could barely pronounce.
There was no time to think though. It was rush hour, and there were thousands of Japanese people blazing around me. Everyone was moving. Everyone.
I kept walking, trying not to seem like the only dumbshit who didn't understand how things worked. Also, because of my bags, I took up about five times more space than everyone else. If I stopped, it could have been ugly, like throwing a wrench in a finely tuned stopwatch.
So I walked around aimlessly. From escalator to long hallway to underground mini-mall back to more escalators. There were metro gates everywhere. It was hard to tell where each one was leading, and what kind of ticket you needed to get through.
With a little trial and error, I found out that if I waved my tourist rail pass in front the gate operators, they'd let you through. I wasn't sure if I was doing it right, or if the gate operators didn't want to deal with a bumbling tourist who didn't speak Japanese. Either way, it worked. I soon made my way to fresh air.
Above ground: more confusing than below ground
Tokyo roads are tricky to navigate. First, there is no semblance of a grid system. The streets are laid out more like a spider web, with intersections of every shape and size. This means most of the time, "right turn" just doesn't get the job done. Secondly, and this one's a doozy – most of the streets in Tokyo don't have names. Yep, they're just blank and unmarked. The only way to know where you are is trying to pinpoint your relationship to landmarks (written in Japanese) and subway stations.
I was a little bit disoriented from leaving the metro station, and not sure exactly which part of the station I left. Despite all of these issues, I was stupidly still confident I knew where I was going. I don't know what I was thinking. I blame being woozy from the jet lag (it was 4am Pacific time).
Needless to say, I got horrifically lost. So lost that I couldn't find my way back to the train station anymore. It also started raining. This is when a mild amount of panic started to set in. It was time to buckle down and figure it out…
I needed the power of the internet.
Japan is a bit of a desert for free wifi. Most places only offer a subscription service – which I would have gladly paid for, except that signing up requires you to navigate a series forms in Japanese (impossible).
But there was an oasis in the desert, good ole 7/11. I remembered Brian telling me they had free wifi, so I decided to go in and see. This is where the tides turned for me. Inside I got some Yen from the ATM, recharged with a delicious milk tea, and looked up directions on my iPad. After some careful examination of G-maps, I found out that there was a smaller metro station very close to my hostel. I had to reenter the beast.
Internet props to the guy who helped me out
With a newfound confidence, I made my way back to the train station. Not long after entering though, I lost my head among the flocks of people and endless pathways. I was clueless as to how to find my metro.
I stopped to think for a second. Instead of trying to figure this out on my own, I worked up the gonads to ask a Japanese businessman at the terminal next to me for help.
I was afraid I butchered the already caveman-like phrase to the point where he didn't understand. But to my suprise, the guy didn't just point me in the right direction, he spent about 5 minutes leading me through crowded halls and escalators to show me where the gate was. I owe that guy so much more than the three arigato's i said to him as I rushed to my train.
Home sweet home
After arriving at my stop, I wandered around in the rain for about 30 minutes before I finally pinpointed where my hostel was. After 8 hours of searching, I found it. I WAS SO HAPPY!
I took a shower, settled down in my little wooden capsule, and busted open a can of whiskey and water I bought from the hostel vending machine. Hello Japan.
More to come,