5 September, 2005

The fast-paced action at Shinjuku station in the early evening.

People move at an incredible pace and I witnessed no collisions at all.

This is the narrow corridor to the Okinawan restaurant in the Shibuya district. Take the elevator to the second floor. And don't expect an English menu.

This is actually one of the friendlier looking maps. Still a lot of confusion and vital details left out but it really can get a lot worse.

Whatever security precautions they're taking are fairly transparent. I have yet to even see a cop in the subway system.

5 September, 2005

Day 51. It was a pretty rainy day for the most part as bits of the typhoon went past us. I spent a good part of the daylight hours finishing up the issue and catching up on Internet things via a free wireless hotspot. As I'll be here for some time, I'd rather start to really explore when I won't get soaking wet. And besides, there's so much work I have to be doing.

I made contact with a listener named Stuart and arranged to meet up with him later in the Shibuya district. I also made contact with my freighter people to make sure that everything was still on schedule for next week's voyage. So far it all seems to be running as planned.

I don't get any English language television but one thing I do get which surprised the hell out of me is the Armed Forces Network. Basically, hotel rooms have these massive radios built into the night stand. This one has buttons for NHK, BGM, AM, and FM. The AM selection (no, you can't tune them for some reason) is the American military's radio station, known as Eagle 810. Its very existence was what initially surprised me. But ultimately I was pretty stunned to realize that I actually liked listening to it.

AFN reminds me of what AM radio used to be like when I was a kid. I would listen to music on AM (usually WABC-AM) and, when I got more daring, I'd actually record it by holding a microphone up to the speaker. I'd bring the recordings to school and it became a sort of status symbol if you had a lot of cool music. (Six songs would be a lot.) It wasn't peer to peer but it was all we had. And now, via the United States military, I was hearing everything from the Beatles to Nirvana over AM radio. It's absolutely awesome. There's something about the tinny sound of AM that makes music seem exciting again. Maybe the whole thing is being programmed by people nostalgic for those old days. But it has the sound and feel of a real radio station which was probably the last place I expected to hear that. There are hourly news reports from a variety of American networks (you'll hear Associated Press one hour, CNN the next, ABC, etc.). Since it was Labor Day back in the States, they were having an "anything goes weekend" today (it took me a while to figure out why they were referring to it as a weekend on a Monday) which basically seemed to mean play a lot of different music.

You do hear some pretty wacky stuff sometimes, like one of the DJs saying that Michael Jackson had been spotted in the United Arab Emirates "or one of those terrorist countries." Not exactly progressive but then this is the military. It's also rather bizarre to hear public service announcements ("Hi, I'm Brigadier General so and so...") telling people the right way to behave if they ever become a prisoner of war. Earlier today, they did this little dialogue talking about how the Restricted Access Personal Identification Number that military people use wasn't the RAPPIN system (yes, they wrote a little script with a guy who was into rapping) but rather the RAPIN system which to me sounded a whole lot like "the raping system." Considering the trouble the U.S. military has been getting into here in Japan over the years for occasional rapes of Japanese women, it might not be the wisest of ad campaigns.

So yeah, you find entertainment in the strangest places. But I do enjoy listening to AFN, regardless of what I think about the military presence here. And I could go on about *that* for a while. Maybe some other time.

My hotel was nice enough to have a free shuttle bus to Shinjuku station so I hopped on. I left myself plenty of time in case there was a repeat of yesterday's confusion. I had a little map this time so I didn't think it would be too crazy. If only that were true.

I'll never express impatience with an out-of-towner visiting New York who gets confused by the subway system. Although I honestly don't think there's any comparison with our system and the one over here. I mean, in New York we have numbers or letters on every line. It's clear where the subway ends and the regional rails begin. We don't expect people to exit the system and enter it again when transferring between lines. And most importantly, we label things pretty clearly.

Again I ran into the problem of being expected to know the name of the line and not knowing it. My map didn't have the name and the signs at the station *only* had the name. So right away there was a disconnect. Then I noticed on one of the Japanese only maps in the station that there was a green line that went to Shibuya in only three stops. The map I had indicated that I would have to take two different lines for a total of six stops. So I started this big long search for the green subway line which of course was the only one that wasn't on any of the signs. Meanwhile Shinjuku station was packed full of commuters on their way home and every last one of them knew exactly where they were going and how to get there at full speed. It was like Penn Station on amphetamines. There were just so many more places to go and people were heading in all different directions. It was a challenge to merely not get trampled.

I asked one guy where to go and showed him the green line on one of the maps. He said to take the escalator upstairs. There was more mayhem up there but no green line. So I asked someone else. He said to go downstairs and go through the gate marked JR Trains and get on Track 12. That sounded a whole lot more promising so I followed those instructions to the letter. As it turns out, this wasn't a subway line at all but one of those regional lines that to me looks exactly the same except it's above ground for much of the time. And to make it even more fun, it shows up as a dotted line on some maps. And of course you can't switch from a JR to a subway! Perish the thought. This system really needs an overhaul in a bad way.

I met up with Stuart who moved to Japan from England in 1988 and has been working with computers ever since. He became fluent in the language, married someone from Japan, and is now raising a family in nearby Yokohama. I thought it was really cool how there are so many people all around the globe who tune in to our radio shows and that it was actually possible to go out and meet some of them.

Shibuya was a pretty lively part of town and looked about as big as Shinjuku. I imagine I'll be seeing quite a few different sections in the next week and will probably be blown away by all of them. This one seemed to be filled with a mostly young crowd, and not quite as noisy or touristy as Shinjuku. Of course, by any other standard it was *extremely* noisy and touristy.

We wound up going to a really neat Okinawan place that I would have never even known existed. Even if you could read the language, you still had to know to go in a very quiet doorway and take an elevator up to the second floor. Now I finally felt like I was really living here.

I learned an awful lot about Okinawa tonight and the various occupations it's had to endure as well as something about the continued opposition to the American bases down there. For a while it was its own separate kingdom. And now there's a sort of link between the people there and in the far north, both places on the outskirts of Japan that border on alienation.

It would be great to make it down to Okinawa and see that part of the country as well. There are so many things I want to do and see here. If I can accomplish a small fraction of them, I'll be quite pleased. Japan is absolutely fascinating and so very complex.

And I'm happy to say, with a little help from Stuart, I was able to make it back using two subway lines with no confusion at all. I'll master this system in the end, so help me.