Monday, September 8

Tokyo in three acts

Tokyo is one of the most populous cities in the world. I believe it. It’s huge. Kyoto is tiny by comparison. The weather remains unbearably hot and due to it’s size it takes a long time to get to-guess what? Another temple. I’m officially sick of them and the drive by tourism as we rush from one place to another.

We visit the Imperial Palace. Actually we visit the plaza nearby which offers a glimpse of the palace off in the distance. This is the only view I have ever seen in photos and I’m a bit disappointed.

After more sightseeing, we arrive at the hotel- which are getting progressively smaller- and I have a minor panic when my baggage is momentarily missing. Like every other hotel this one has a huge shopping mall attached to it. In a fit of hunger I indulge in the only instance of American food on the entire trip and get a Subway sandwich.

The next day turns out to be one of the highlights of my trip. I had three main objects coming to Japan, training at the headquarters dojo and meeting Tohei Sensei, getting a sword and seeing the large Buddha at Kamakura. Two out of three ain’t bad.

The trip to Kamakura takes two hours and the first temple I skip as it has a long staircase. I wander around the park instead. Finally, after a short walk - There is it. A 33 foot high bronze Buddha tarnished green by the elements as it sits outdoors, serene as ever. I stand in awe of the Daibutsu as people flow pass me and I am as content as I have ever been. I don’t know why but long ago I vowed that I would come to Japan to see this andnow I can cross it off my list of life long dreams.

Mindy asks “Can you go home now?”

“I can die now.” I reply simply. Who know s if I will ever get anymore life goals-what few I have- check off? Perhaps not, as I feel I have outlived my usefulness anyway. I banish such thoughts as I walk around and soak up the feeling of peace and contentment.

Next stop is Hakone. It’s a long drive along the coast, the only sight of the ocean I see on the trip. The rough sandy beaches are empty and the houses look like those in Southern California. The bus winds into the hills along an increasingly narrow road. The driver is excellent but I still fret at the sheer drop offs. I look anxiously at the mirrors situated at the hairpins turns to see oncoming traffic, hoping there’s not another bus coming in the oppisite direction. We arrive at the top of a mountain where there are active volcanic vents spewing sulfuric gas into the air - even with the fog and a brisk wind it smells like a fart factory.

There is a long hike to a boiling spring which I skip. Instead I check out a small stream along side the trail and decide to see if the water trickling down is as hot as the well at the shinto shrine down near the parking lot. Some people watch in fascination and maybe concealed horror as I climb over the low barrier and carefully step down the rocky terrain to dip a finger into the stream. I thought it would be fun to entertain everyone on the trail by pretending to burn my hand, scream in mock agony and jump around but the water was cold. Deeply disappointed I chicken out and sulk back to the bus instead. ( for more details on this trip see the entry “How do you hide a 12,000 foot mountain?” )

Later at the hotel I laid around the room feeling tired and a bit lonely when my roomie came in and informed me there was a party in a room down the hall. There are about 25 or 30 people in the room all wearing a yakata ( a light weight cotton kimono) provide by the hotel. There was a lot of drinking and once Ken brought out his guitar, a lot of bad singing. Jamie Tabata stood in front of me, blocking my view, as he played coin toss with Michael parked on his bed.

“Move your ass Jamie.” I complained and moved to a better spot on the other bed. John M. noted my annoyance as I explained that I was tired of the view. “Not really.” he opined as he looked knowingly at me over the top of his glasses. “No but his ass is a terrible conversationalist.” I counter. I wisely decide not to drink into the night and go to bed around midnight.

The next day is free of tours. I could plan out an elaborate excursion on the subway, maybe go to a museum or check out an onsen ( hot spring) but I’m burnt out so I do laundry instead. I quickly realize the congiere at the hotel gave me useless directions. I stand near a train crossing looking very lost. An elderly couple in a barbershop see my puzzlement and intercede. The older woman leads me around the corner to the right place. How kind of them. In fact the Japanese have been unfailingly polite and helpful.

As the washer does it’s thing, I go for a walk around the block. There is an elementary school and a ball park near door. Kids playing in the yard and guys playing baseball on a hot summer day evokes the feel of a small, quiet village a mere two blocks from a high rise hotel and huge mall.

It’s hot and humid even for the locals and as I walk back to the hotel I start singing to myself Don Henleys’ song “All She Wants to Do is Dance” “Never heat coming off the street all she wants to do is dance, dance.” a woman (not Japanese) walks pass me and is surprised to see I’m not listening to an ipod. She must have thought I was nuts. The natives, being the polite people they are, ignore the crazy gaiijn.

In another attempt to see Mt. Fuji I go to the top of a 60 story building next to the hotel. I hate elevators- and this one gets you there in 30 seconds, and I hate heights. The view is worth it- if it weren’t so smoggy. Sorry, no Fuji for you today round eyes. Shit.

After some shopping I retire to the hotel room to rest my poor tired feet and watch 2 hours of sumo wrestling. There is a tournament going on in Nagoya. I can’t understand the commentary of course, otherwise I would appreciated the 15-0 victory by Mongolian wrestler Hakuho. I amuse myself by guessing who is going to win each match as the massive combatants face off like two bull elephants dueling over a prize cow. I always did fancy big guys.

In blazing contrast to the homey neighborhood, is another street a few blocks in the other direction lined with video parlors, pachinko halls with glitzy neon signs and loud obnoxious barkers. The street is blocked off so gangs of teenagers roam from one thrill to the next. The whole Ki Society gang meet at a restaurant above one of these howling offenses for a farewell dinner and we look old compared to this crowd. I note that we traveled from the hotel lobby to this place-three blocks away- underground. I would not be surprised if the huge amounts of earth excavated from these cavernous underground malls was used to create the man made island at Yokohama.


July 18th. I kill some time before our departure by visiting the small park around the corner. There is a grove of pine trees in four neat rows, a fountain and a large stone that acts as a shrine. The park is desolate with only me and the homeless tenants present. Yes even in busy Tokyo there are homeless. A sad square for the forgotten and cast aside.

I wish I could have stayed another day to explore Tokyo more. “Next time” some say but I never go anywhere twice. I content myself with what treasured memories I have of the trip as we make the two hour bus ride to the airport. Sayonara Japan.

No comments: