Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Tokyo: arrivals and decisions

Due to the shinkansen timings, I arrive rather early in Tokyo. Basically I had to check out of the hotel by 10am, and I'd already exhausted the very limited nearby delights of Hamamatsu, so there wasn't much reason to hang around for long. It looked like waiting for the 11am shinkansen would get me there at late lunchtime, which sounded like I could easily end up very hungry. There's typically a certain amount of faff before you can really set about finding a meal; I wouldn't want to do it with all my luggage (especially given how cramped restaurants tend to be in big cities, and Japan in particular), and I wasn't sure there'd be much near my hotel.

So I decide to rock up before 10am and get the first train possible. In fact, this turns out to be an extra-express train with only a handful of stops, so I'm in Tokyo by 11.40 and a bit stuck. Previous hotels have let me check in early, but I suspect this one (which seems more modest) probably won't. On the other hand, I can't see anywhere tempting to eat in the station, and I don't want to leave because I'll lose the ability to use my shinkansen ticket to reach the hotel if I exit the barriers. Plus, I'd have to pay to store my luggage, if I could even find an empty coin locker, which seems frankly unlikely.

I'm staying in the Grand House Chang Tee Hotel, which at least sounds impressive, even though it's a modest building on a narrow side street in a suburb (Ikebukuro).

As I thought, my room isn't ready yet. I persuade them to let me leave my luggage, because I'll be damned if I'm going to hoik it around a dull suburb of Tokyo as I search for food and a way to kill two hours. The luggage check option turns out to be to put my bags in a pile in the lobby. I appreciate we're in Japan, but something within me screams in horror as I walk out, leaving all my worldly possessions (including this laptop) in open view within three metres of the street door.

Still, content in the knowledge that I am no longer living next door to an all-night adult cinema, I stroll off towards the station in search of provender.

Huh, a love hotel? Well, I suppose this area's near the station and probably cheap, and I saw some bars around, and there's lots of offices so people presumably meet up after work or come back after a night on the town... makes sense really.

This is not substantially different to the adult shops near Chester Station in all honesty.

The 18 thing is a bit odd because drinking age is 20 here, which leaves not too many possibilities. But Chocolat and Love Umyu are probably just ordinary clubs. Maybe even clubs aimed at women. Or chocolate shops. Or nail parlours. There's a lot of possibilities and I'm not good at parsing Japanese shops.

No, this one is definitely offering resting your head in womens' laps and (I think) getting your ears cleaned. That seems weird, I mean, arguably it's like a manicure for your ears, but they don't sell that with "rest your feet on women's laps". And there's a massage parlour above it and... some kind of woman-themed thing next door.

Okay that is an actual soapland holy cow.

Out of sheer curiosity, I did a few searches. These are just some of the indisputably adult establishments between me and the station.

Not quite what I was expecting, but I don't really expect this to inconvenience me in any way, so it's basically just a cause for mild surprise.

Somehow I manage to feed myself and eventually return to the hotel. It's alright. It has a relatively traditionally-posh aesthetic by my standards, although technically it's less posh than the chain hotels I've mostly stayed in, and the actual room is B&B-level basic.

Planning my trip

I should probably have sorted this earlier, but I've been busy. I kept thinking I'd have time to plan what I was doing in Tokyo, but it never happened. So once I get into my room, I crack on with it.

Sadly, the area I'm staying in is basically a cultural void. Because I only managed to check in at 3pm, it's already nearly 4pm by the time I'm seriously thinking about going out. Much to late to do anything other than wandering round nearby, or else a trip to see the night-time streets of Tokyo. Even though Japan keeps very late hours, the usual curse of the tourist applies - almost everything shuts at 5pm. I shouldn't grumble, mind, since I'm as glad as anyone to finish work at 5pm now that I actually do.

Checking through tourist sites, it turns out there's an exhibition on writing systems at a museum nearby. Somewhat frustratingly, last entry is at 4.30pm. If I'd learned about it earlier I could have reclaimed a little bit of the day, but I'd be very hard-pressed to reach the building by then - and it's almost certainly impossible given the myriad pedestrian crossings between us. I decide instead that I'll wander round the streets a little bit, then make sure I know where the museum actually is (on foot, not on Google Maps). My tentative plan is to visit it on Friday. This afternoon and evening is already a write-off - like the rest of the day, really.

Still, I got some good reading in and I can chill and rest up.

A bit of schedule explanation here. On Friday I'll be moving to a hotel near Narita Airport, as my flight's at 10.30am so I'll need to be there by nineish and I don't want to hit too much rush-hour traffic. Because the museum is open 10-5, visiting on a normal day would be inefficient: it would basically leave me lunching locally and then having just an afternoon to spare. I can be in central Tokyo doing stuff before 10am in theory and do far more. Plus, I'd rather spend as little time as possible in this area because it seems extremely dull.

Someone on TripAdvisor has highlighted Rikko University campus as worthy of attention, so as it's just a few minutes' walk away I wander that way. Apparently they like its British style? I confess that, faced with the real thing, I fail to understand this praise. You can see a few buildings from the street which are kind of reminiscent of a UK redbrick, which is a fine and worthy thing, but not one I'd normally go out of my way to admire. The comments gave the impression other people have been wandering around the campus freely, which is 100% unlike the way UK universities normally operate. I'm loath to test this theory out myself, especially given I've seen at least one sign strictly warning strangers not to go wandering about the campus.

Passing (with considerable difficult) through Ikebukuro Station building via a maze of twisty passages all alike, I cross about a dozen pelican crossings and proceed down a depressing set of streets under a flyover, or possibly a train line, I'm not sure. Despite wildly inaccurate information from Google Maps (on the rare occasions it bothers to show my location at all) I strike my cross-street correctly.

I pause here when I notice a poster advertising some kind of performance.

This is a rare thing. I've been interested in seeing some kind of show in Japan since I first came, but it was always bizarrely impossible. I don't know whether amdram just doesn't exist in Japan, or whether it's only advertised on furtive underground sites, but information seems impossible to come by.

To be fair, I know from pop culture that schools and universities put on performances, but a) I've never seen any advertised so I suspect it's more a thing for parents and friends, and b) I imagine most of them would be very weird. I've been in school and university drama myself.

The only things I could ever get information about were traditional performances and adaptations of Anglophone dramas. The latter, with the best will in the world, I could see more conveniently and cheaply in the UK. The former seem to be universally possess four qualities:

  • excrutiating duration
  • exhorbitant pricing
  • vanishingly-small possibility of actually obtaining a ticket
  • either just finished, or not happening for many months

This looks fractionally more promising. It seems to be in some kind of community hall. On closer investigation I realise it's a musical and the tickets are about £40. That's several times what I would normally pay for a show! I assume, even given Japanese pricing (entertainment is really expensive) that this is a professional show.

When I get back to my hotel I read the website. It's somewhat baffling, but it looks like this is actually very weird - there's instructions for fan letters, discussion of rules pertaining to photographing the cast, some stuff I don't understand about ticket sales. It looks like tickets may only be sold on the day, one hour before the show? And there's some kind of lottery? This is all madness. I abandon all thought of watching it.

One day, one day, I will get to watch an amateur Japanese theatrical performance of something lowbrow. One day.

With a bit of research now, it looks as though this was in fact a live dramatised version of a popular manga, ふしぎ遊戯~朱ノ章~. So that would explain the fans and the prices...

The Museum Mystery

Puzzle time, pop-pickers! Below is a map showing the Google Maps location of the Ancient Orient Museum.

And here is a link to a nearby Google Maps location, along the route I followed from my hotel.

Your challenge is to navigate, using Google Street View, until you have found the museum.

Remember that, because of the apparently-very-complicated situation visiting Japan with a non-Japanese phone, and the fact that Japan apparently doesn't permit downloading Google Maps of Japan, and GPS being incredibly erratic, I was not able to actively track my progress nor to do any searching on the move. No "I'm outside a shop, I'll search for it on Maps so I can pinpoint my location?" or any of that. All I could do was load a map in advance, and then refer to it later on while trying to work out what was going on. Try doing the same.

Spoiler space! Don't read on until you're satisfied you've found the museum and its entrance, or alternatively have given up entirely.

Eventually I find the museum. Well, no, actually. I find the location of the museum. As I approach the building, I see the word "Museum" written in huge letters on it.

On arrival, though, what I find is the backside of a gargantuan car park, to which the term "multi-storey" can be applied in the same way that Carcharodon megalodon can be described as "a fishy". There is absolutely no information whatsoever about entering the museum directly overhead. All entrances to the building are dangerous ramps plunging into Stygian abysses, plastered with signs strictly abjuring and binding non-drivers against entry in any form - I am reminded somewhat of Green Eggs and Ham, which I read exactly once about six years ago, because I'm not American and it wasn't an essential part of my childhood. Do not enter on a bike, do not enter on a trike, do not enter if you like.

In confusion and exhaustion, I eventually wander into a nearby shopping complex, where to my slight surprise I see signs indicating the very museum I'm after. Before trying to follow them, I recruit my strength with a sit-down and a drink, because who knows how much longer this might all take... but after several false starts, dead ends and bits you can only cross on specific floors (which give the experience all the feel of a ZX Spectrum platformer) I eventually make my way right across the building, and find a lift which takes me to the 7th floor where the museum is. Victory!

Actual location of pedestrian entrance to building containing museum. Note that it is about 80m away from anything marked as the museum, in a different building (a vast shopping mall) which does not appear to be connected to the museum in any way nor have anything to do with museums. Typically, in my experience, shopping malls do not contain museums of any kind.

Connecting tunnel between apparently separate building complexes, visible only from a road ramp up onto a flyover, entirely inaccessible to pedestrians. Oddly enough I didn't spot this on my first run through.

Viewing the map up close in Map mode rather than Earth mode reveals the secret passage. Unfortunately I hadn't checked anything like that carefully, because I wasn't expecting it to be a challenge.

I'm now super glad I didn't try to rush to the museum at 4.05pm, because since I first turned down the street where I expected to find it, it's taken me well over 30 minutes to locate the right building and find a way into it. I feel a bit like I'm participating in Me: the RPG, with a particularly exasperating GM who doesn't understand what makes interesting content, and insists on making skill rolls all the time when I'm just trying to follow up the clue that points to the museum.

I return to the mall for a while and look for places to eat. I wander round yet more, but I'm not really feeling it. There is, however, plenty to look at. The mall has multiple shops/fun zones (I can't think of a better description) themed around particular franchises.

Namja Town is Namco-themed and is basically an indoor theme park. Well worth reading the English pamphlet if you can't manage the Japanese site.

The Pokemon Centre just seems to be a toy shop, though.

According to the videos and posters nearby, J-World includes places to take a photo with a dummy of various characters, pretend to be in famous scenes from TV shows, and eat at a restaurant that, to my eyes, is surprisingly under-overpriced for a theme park.

When I first arrived I found the models of food very strange - after all, they're not something I've ever seen in the UK. Even pictures you typically only find in a certain kind of restaurant, usually cheaper family-friendly places like motels and diners. These days I just find it useful. Not only can you tell what the food actually is (and, where necessary, work out how to order the thing you want), but it gives you a pretty clear indication of how big it is. In the UK recently I've found portion sizes seem to be creeping up to the point where I quite often don't want to finish my meal,* so it's useful to know what you're getting. That's particularly true when touristing, when I don't necessarily end up eating at the normal sorts of mealtimes.

This is only partly due to me getting older and my once-voracious metabolism having slowed down. I think it's partly a response to economic changes: restaurants want you to pay more for each meal, presumably because of increased costs. By giving a bigger meal, it makes it seem like a higher price is worthwhile. My theory is that the price of overheads (including staffing costs, partly due to minimum wage?) has increased faster than the price of food, so increasing portion size but charging more is a way to offset the higher cost of providing a meal at all.

Having failed to find anything I fancy (my fault, not theirs), eventually I buy a loaf of bread from a bakery and eat that before going for a cuppa. I've been slightly ill recently so am a bit hesitant about rich food, which this mostly is.

Why not go back to my room? It does, after all, have functional internet.

Well, it's pretty early, and the thing is that if I go back now I'll have to kill about five hours in my room before bed. I prefer a little more variety. More importantly, the hotel drink supplies turned out to be downstairs, not in my room on the 3rd floor. I know it's functional, but there's a big psychological difference between brewing-up in your own bedroom, and taking a lift downstairs to get a cuppa from a jar of Nescafé (it is Nescafé, I noted on the way out) which you then need to carry up in the lift.

Speaking of which, I've really been coasting downhill on the hotel front. Whatever I might have said about the one in Hamamatsu, I was shocked to realise that the toilet seat in my Tokyo hotel doesn't have any functions at all. It's just... a seat. Talk about scraping the barrel...

On the plus side, it's much cooler and it has air conditioning, so let's not fuss.


Oh yeah, I was wittering about plans for the rest of the trip!

After some scrounging around, I've drawn up rough itineraries for the next three days. I'm not necessarily going to do all of these, but they provide a few things reasonably close together that I could pick from.




Narita is annoyingly far away, and I've no reason to think I'll be able to check in early. I'm going to leave my bags in storage for as long as possible, and aim to arrive after eating, because I'm 99.9% sure that it will be (like most other airport regions) totally devoid of interest.

Once more, I've decided to skip the Ghibli museum. According to the information I've found, it's expensive, hard to reach, there's nothing else to do nearby, the visiting arrangements sound frankly extremely annoying, it's hard to get tickets, it limits your other activities, and apparently it's only about an hour's entertainment anyway. No thanks!

I leave my cafe and stroll back to the hotel. Since this is Japan, I am not pestered by anyone, but do have to walk a lengthy gauntlet of young women handing out flyers for very relaxing evenings. Either my awkward ground-stare or the fact that I'm not wearing a suit discourages them sufficiently that I arrive at the hotel entirely untroubled.

And with that enlightening day, I'll draw things to a close for tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment