12 September, 2005

This is the woman who services all of the cigarette machines in Tokyo.

And this is the smallest Nathan's in the world.

The towers where you can catch a free glimpse of the rest of Tokyo.

Here's a small bit of that glimpse.

The high rise section by Shinjuku is actually quite nice looking.

And why don't we have cool looking buildings like that back in New York?

Some of the microwave facilities on the tower.

This is a Braille map that emits a little beeping noise throughout Shinjuku station.

And this is how blind people can find it. These raised yellow markings exist all over the city and guide the blind to safe crossings of busy streets.

A not so crowded commuter line.

Commuters on the way home.

The longest word I've ever seen in Japanese.

These figures outside a police precinct indicate in blue the number of accidents and in red the number of fatalities in a given period of time.

A fast train passes through a JR station.

A vending machine for commuters on the way to work.

The entrance to one of the "women only" train cars.

Signs here often not only tell you what to do and not do but go into a little more detail. This sign is telling you that a train employee will get something for you from the tracks so please don't try and do it yourself.

The emptiest train I've seen here yet. It was nearly midnight and this train was heading into the city which was the opposite direction the hordes of people wanted to go.

12 September, 2005

Day 58. I think I've become addicted to vending machine coffee. Not the disgusting kind you find back home. This is iced and it's one of the many variations of Boss Coffee you find in the machines. What sucks is I know I won't be able to find it back home. But that's no reason not to enjoy it while I'm here.

Something else I've never seen back home which I'm going to be needing more of are these Haagen-Dazs ice cream sandwiches with really flaky wafers. Why in God's name are we being denied these things? There are definitely going to have to be some changes when I get back.

I was woken up today by a call from the freighter people. Guess what? My freighter is delayed by a day. So I get another 24 hours in Tokyo and tomorrow I find out exactly what the story is. Maybe. That's the way it is with freighters, I'm told. Hopefully once we're actually in transit, we'll know exactly where we are and where we're going and maybe even when we're going to get there. But having this extra day is a godsend for me since I had so many online things to catch up on and I won't have the opportunity for that once I'm on the boat.

I also had to record the September 20 edition of "Off The Wall" today in Tokyo since it would really be my last chance if I wanted to upload it before I fall out of contact. Of course I could be surprised and find that freighters have 24 hour Internet access. But I really don't think so. In all likelihood, there won't be any dispatches for a while once I get on board. And then there will be a shitload of them all at once.

Dave has been doing a lot more exploring than I have since he doesn't have to worry about all of this net stuff and all of the updating. But I'm fine balancing it out a bit. After you've traveled this far, it's a good idea to sit back for a spell. I've done so much walking since I left New York that I really feel as if I've walked a lot. I also must remember to replenish my supply of metaphors when I get a chance.

So basically Dave finds interesting places to explore and I wind up meeting him at some of them. Today it was a fashion district in what appeared to be a college part of town. There were wide boulevards and narrow alleys, all selling clothes or doing hair styling of one sort or another. It was pretty interesting but kind of bothersome since I happened to be starving and none of these places seemed to have any interest in selling food of any sort. I actually had to stop in a snack bar in order to get enough energy to continue the quest for food. And after more walking on the sweltering streets (the heat was really draining me more than the starvation) we discovered a delicatessen that was several floors up in a building. It looked a little fast foody on the outside but once we got in it looked much better. They had really good burgers and a great atmosphere. Old American license plates hung from the wall while jazz music played in the background. The people were really friendly and helpful. They even let Dave take a picture of their spotless kitchen. As with nearly every place I've been to in this city, I felt extremely relaxed and welcome.

But unfortunately it was once again time for me to do work. I had to record "Off The Wall" but I also wanted to go up to the observatory we had been at the day before so I could get a view of the city during daylight hours and possibly catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji. So I took the train back to Shinjuku and made my way to the tall building. The tower I was in the night before was closed on alternate Mondays but the tower next door was open in its place. I got up just in time as the sun seems to go down early and fast in this part of the world. And yes, I actually saw Mount Fuji in the distance, far higher than I ever imagined it would be. Unfortunately it was really dim in the haze so it didn't come out well in any of the pictures on my crappy camera. But trust me, it was awesome.

I had to get equipment at the hotel and send a couple of pieces of email. We tried fixing the wireless connection downstairs in the hotel by rebooting the router and the whole thing stopped working completely. The hotel people had no idea how to fix it and for a while it looked as if we had really done a number on the place. Originally it simply had a really intermittent signal even when you were very close. And now the signal was fine but it wasn't connecting to the outside world. So after the hotel gave up, we just unplugged *everything* and let it all reboot. Luckily it started to work again and the signal was much better. But it was pretty exciting for a while.

We headed over to Shinjuku on the shuttle where Dave helped me get wired up. I've been having major problems with the lapel microphone throughout the entire trip but Dave managed to hook it up in a way where the brushing noise it picked up was minimized. The plan was for me to simply walk through the station and ride the train a bit while capturing the various sounds and commenting as much as I could on what I was seeing. It was tricky since people were very quiet once they were actually on the trains. It's pretty strange; you can be in a train car with a couple of hundred people all mashed together and nobody is saying a word. So in order not to appear to be completely out of my mind, I pretended I was on a mobile phone. Which was also tricky because you're not supposed to use a mobile while on a train. But I was a lot better at pretending to be inconsiderate than I was at pretending to be crazy so I went with the mobile phone plan. The show came out all right for the most part but there was in fact some brushing noises picked up which I'm going to have to repair or edit out. Nothing like more work to really make your day. But one way or another I'll have a show ready for next week.

So it was now the middle of the evening and both Dave and I wanted to go somewhere away from the maddening throngs. Dave's developed a really good sense of where things are in the city as well as how to get to them so I deferred to his judgment on this. We picked a location pretty much at random where we wouldn't be too far from a subway line and from which we could conceivably walk back to the hotel in case we stayed out past the last train. That's always such a constraint on fun but it was one that we had to figure out a way to live with.

It took a bit of time to figure out which train line we had to be on. There actually were variations - you could take an express line or a rapid line or a local line. And on this particular one, the maps and listings of stations weren't readily available in English. So just figuring out how to get out there was a challenge in itself, never mind figuring out what to do once we were there.

But get there we did on a packed commuter train where people seemed to be collapsed in exhaustion after a full day's work. And now they were all heading home and no doubt would be up at the crack of dawn to play the whole game again. It really makes you sad to see people in this state. But on the weekend they'll all be getting shitfaced so maybe they'll feel like it's a worthwhile endeavor.

We got out of the train and instantly saw that this didn't look at all like the Tokyo we had been seeing. It was almost rural in nature. No, there weren't farms and trees and things like that. But there were narrow streets with buildings that didn't go up more than a few floors and a sense that we were in a neighborhood where people might actually know each other. So we walked down a few of these streets and looked at our various options of places to go.

We passed a whole bunch of really tiny places that could hold six people maximum. A lot of them were sushi bars. It's always hard to just walk into a place like that because it seems so intimate. It's like walking into someone's home. I'm not sure what exactly we were looking for but I was content to walk around a bit more before figuring it out.

It didn't take us too long to get away from where the train was and just strike out on our own. We wound up on a bigger street that had truck traffic and we started to worry that we might be getting away from the decent places. Then we spotted a little doorway with lights across the street. We went over and looked in. It was one of those tiny sushi places. We took the plunge and went inside.

People always seem so genuinely happy to see you whenever you come into a shop or a restaurant here. I've noticed this reaction even from security guards outside 24 hour grocery stores. They give you a big greeting when you come in and an even bigger sendoff when you leave. Perhaps you've even noticed this in a Japanese restaurant that's local to you. I definitely have but I didn't realize how much of a cultural thing it was until I actually experienced Japan.

So we got a nice warm welcome and the sushi chef proceeded to give us a whole assortment of sushi - everything from fresh water eel to mackerel to clam sushi. I never really expected to have a bad sushi experience while in Tokyo so I wasn't surprised at how amazingly good it all was. I can't decide if it was as good or even better than the sushi we had at the fish market. All I knew was it was a great experience overall because it felt like we were visiting with these people in their small establishment as much as we were going out to get food. Many people already know that being up at the bar is the only way to really appreciate sushi. Back home most people I hang out with prefer to sit at a table. I think those days may have to come to an end.

After the sushi experience, we walked in the direction we thought a train might be and got it right for the most part. We just had to walk a bunch of kilometers before the street suddenly turned into the city again. And it really *was* a sudden transition. The train we caught (a full 15 minutes before the system started to shut down) was actually somewhat empty, undoubtedly because we were heading into the city and not away from it. As soon as we arrived back at Shinjuku, hordes of late working and drunken people piled on.

Since tomorrow will almost certainly be my last day here, I really have to make sure everything is in order. So I'm reserving tomorrow for tying up any loose ends and hopefully having one last bit of fun in Tokyo.