Tuesday, May 17, 2005


[Associated photos at Yahoo photos - Tokyo album.]

In 2002, shortly after my father's project at work completed, he transferred to a new department in which he began to interact with corporate officials from Japan (instead of those in Russia at his last post). After a few meetings here, his group was invited to a series of meetings in Tokyo. He invited me along, though I had to pay my own way except for crashing in his hotel room. That was all the incentive I needed to dust off my passport and book a flight.

I flew alone, since the flight my father and his group were on was not the cheapest (your tax dollars at work). I arrived in Tokyo a few hours after them, and he decided he wouldn't ask his group to wait around the airport for me. Massively jetlagged, I arrived at Narita airport, about an hour outside Tokyo. Did I mention I don't speak Japanese? I walked off the plane and followed the more or less bilingual signs to customs, only to find myself completely alone. I didn't recognize a single face from my flight. Not a good sign. I cleared customs and followed the signs to the trains. I pointed and grunted my way into buying a regular ticket on the express train to Shinjuku, the neighborhood where I knew Dad's hotel was located. (I later found out dad and his group never saw the trains and wound up taking a bus that took nearly twice as long.) As the train pulled into Shinjuku station, it was after dark so all the information kiosks were closed. I exited the station, suitcase in tow, to Shinjuku at night (see photos 4 & 5). In Houston everyone has at least one car, so mass transit is pretty much a mystery to me, as are taxis though I've read about them. I feared getting in a taxi and being driven all over town taking the "scenic" route, draining my wallet in the process. My guidebook said the hotel had a free shuttle bus to the train station, so I wandered around the outside of the station looking for it. Although everyone on the street I approached for help was courteous and (apparently) sympathetic, nobody was willing to risk speaking broken English to me and they weren't very helpful. (It must have been a nighttime phenomenon, as they were all young adults. During the day, I found older adults willing to help, even approaching me if I looked confused for more than 30 seconds.) 15 minutes later, and a huge heaping helping of dumb luck, I found the bus and caught a free 2-minute ride to the hotel. Japan is such a wonderfully confusing place, with a completely foreign language (not like Mexico, where you just add -o to the end of an English word to get the Spanish equivalent) and yet I managed to find my way from the airport to the hotel, through what turned out to be the busiest train station in Tokyo (the busiest commuter city in the world) in the cheapest, most efficient manner. When I made it up to Dad's room, I literally collapsed from exhaustion, mental and physical.

During the week we were in Tokyo, Dad and his group sat in meetings while I explored the city. I saw shrines, museums, and palaces. I wandered through neighborhoods and ate in local restaurants relying mostly on smiles, kudasai (please) and arigato (thank you) to communicate. I saw suits of samurai armour and swords, strange and beautiful art. I saw pachinko parlors and video arcades (just like Lost in Translation- strange games, including one that looked like a standup comedy act). I strolled through parks and gardens that seemed like I was a thousand miles away from the towering office buildings only a few hundred yards away. I won't bore you with all the details, but I loved every second of it and wish I had taken a hundred rolls of film with me.

In a city of 10-12 million people, I never felt so safe and so comfortable.


At 1:54 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I used to feel safe and comfortable, too, pretty much as I do when I'm in NZ. I still do, really, but I now know there is a lot of illusion involved in Japan's 'safe' and 'comfortable' image. In my second or third year here, a student disappeared for a few months, and when she turned up again she told me she had been held up at knifepoint by a couple of guys outside her apartment building in the evening when she was walking the couple of hundred meters from the train station. Lots of people around on the street, but nobody noticed. The guys told her to get her keys out and go into her apartment, while holding a knife at her back. Luckily a neighbour's dog started barking and they ran away (with her bag).

The police told her they knew who the guys were, but didn't have enough 'proof' to arrest them. They had been committing a series of rapes and burglaries IN MY NEIGHBOURHOOD for the past couple of years.

The police 'advice' to my student was to not go out after dark, which is why she had stopped lessons for the winter. The police won't arrest anybody unless they are sure they'll get a conviction. This means that people like that walk because the police don't want to mess up their 99% conviction rate.

As far as I know the rapists were never arrested. One of the victims was a Canadian woman. She was so traumatized by the experience, and by the experience of trying to get the police to DO something, that she ended up going back to Canada.

Don't want to rain on your parade or anything, but honestly, there is a lot more crap going on here than you ever get in the official records or in the newspapers. I'm far more careful now than I used to be.

At 4:47 AM, Blogger Esther said...

Lovely pictures.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger boo said...

Sounds lovely... really brought it to life... almost made me want to... go to Japan... and i have never really wanted to...

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Brighton said...

What wonderful memories. I used to travel with my dad too, but Singapore & Europe were our destinations.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger evilsciencechick said...

Domo arigato Mr Tinyhands!

Very cool pictures! I don't know if I would ever feel comfortable in a place where I couldn't communicate with people. I'm just too chatty...can you tell? :)

At 1:16 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic- I know things are never as great as they seem, especially when you're on holiday. I never looked at official statistics, news reports or anything like that- I just rely on my general state of mind. Bumping into people, crowding on a train- I would never do that here (or in Europe)- it didn't bother me in the slightest there. It's true we have to be careful wherever we are though.

3sth3r- Unfortunately it's scanned film. I wish I had my digital back then so I could have shot everything. With film I'm too self-conscious about "wasting" shots.

boo- My then-wife didn't want to go either, thus I was alone. Stop by here on your way and I'll come with.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Brighton- I've seen some of Europe and I'd like to see more. I've never been to southeast Asia, Africa, or Australia/NZ. Of course, when I move to either China or Japan, those place will be much closer. ;)

ESC- Glad to see you got those flames put out.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger evilsciencechick said...



Anyone else have problems loading mr TH's site earlier? Anyone???

pft! and I left you such a nice comment!

At 1:47 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Woah, a flare-up! Pants on fire!!

At 1:51 PM, Blogger evilsciencechick said...


At 1:52 PM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

you're so well traveled, i'm not even going to pretend that i'm not jealous. I seriously doubt in the course of my life that i will ever have the opportunity to fly across the world...

sigh...i'll just head on over to duluth, which is only minutes away from canada...that's sort of like another country, right??

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Kate the Peon said...

Sounds like an awesome time. It's funny (not ha-ha, more like interesting) how comfortable you can feel in certain foreign countries.

Glad you had a good and safe time.

Now add Chicago to your list, please.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

ESC- Oh, I don't buy it for a second that you're upset. After all, I basically said you had hot pants ;)

Aide- Canada doesn't count cause it's like, attached. Texas is more foreign than Canada...come on down and get your "passport" stamped. :D

At 3:23 PM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

Only if "passport" is a dirrty euphamism!!!!!!

"dirty" with two Rs, mind you!

At 3:48 PM, Blogger No_Newz said...

Sounds like a super sweet trip, lucky duck! I loved the pictures too and checked out other albums you have there.
Thanks for stopping by Home Fires!
Lois Lane

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Ann said...

It sounds like you have a nice trip after all the confusion you have from the airport. Yeah it's really hard to communicate if you're travelling on the foriegn land often times to act what you mean through sign language and facial expression, instead of saying it in words might sometimes works. :) like myself i understand, speak and write little english but trust me you can be here and travelling you will be just fine! Anyways, i'll be in New Zealand on Sept. for 6 weeks only.I know they speak english there but i hope i understand it coz i think the accent is pretty heavy there. Regards to you!


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