A Travellerspoint blog

Can't Get Lost if I Don't Know Where to Go

Disadvantages to navigating in Tokyo:
1. Maps have a tendency of leaving off streets=
2. It's hard to tell the differences between streets and alleys
3. No street names
4. General lack of unique landmarks
5. Curving roads
6. Google Maps tends to give really bad walking directions (Directions from house to Hatsudai train station: walk to Hatsudai train station)

Advantages to navigating in Tokyo: buildings are absurdly easy to find.

With the exception of the school, every time I want to get somewhere, my main strategy has been to look it up on a map, get some idea of which direction I need to head, (not to look at roads if avoidable, though) and start walking. I'm soon greeted by a large friendly sign announcing the location.

It's the only real redeeming feature, but it's worth a lot.

Posted by Soseki 21:47 Comments (1)

I'm Getting Better at This!

Today, during Japanese class, one of the dialogues used the word for 'police box.' The teacher wanted to make sure we knew what it was, so he asked a couple of questions about it, including 'Is it big or small?' I quietly muttered 'It's bigger on the inside than the outside,' or my best stab at what that would be in Japanese, but no one else heard me.

The effect on Friday was clear: no one wanted to do anything after class ended except get lunch. Even that seemed like a bit of an ordeal, because we were again with a group of seven people. One person appeared to not like anything that looked like Japanese food, and at least four of us were against eating at a place known for their coffee. Eventually Kobe and I split off from the rest of the group (there were no trains this time, so we were safe) and found a place to eat.

When I got home, I discovered that I still had energy, but it was very focused energy. Specifically, I wanted to find some of the stores that I had earmarked in Shibuya. Despite being here for nearly a week, I still had no idea how close I'd come. So I set off, determined to either find a store or walk around for three hours trying.

I had the rough idea that I needed to head south. I'd had that idea for several weeks, but it hadn't done me any good when I wasn't sure how to get there. I knew which way to go to start heading south, but wasn't sure how to keep going that direction. This time, though, I was determined to make it farther. Every single map showed a giant park, and I figured that if I could make it there, I'd be doing very well.

I made serious progress when I realized that the Vietnamese embassy didn't require turning. I'd always thought I turned left to get there, but it turned out I'd just followed the street. (The Vietnamese embassy was a good landmark, because not only was it on my map, it was hard to miss. Even if you miss the building itself, signs continue to be in Vietnamese for another block. I can't read Vietnamese, but I can recognize it when I see it.) With that in mind, I had a decent idea of which way I should head next. So I did.

Vending machines in Tokyo probably outnumber water fountains 80:1. They outnumber street signs 20:1. Alleys that aren't significant enough to get names will have two or three on them. Named streets are major, so if you find them in person you can probably find them on a map. The problem is finding them in person.

Long story short: there was walking, and there was looking at maps, (My favorite thing about universities: they have maps everywhere with helpful labels going 'You are here.' There are less of them in Tokyo, but if you look you can find them, typically by bus stops and emergency shelter areas.) and missing the fact the road curves, and more looking at maps, and wondering how much sake the designers had drunk to think some of that made sense... and then I figured out where I was supposed to go again. There was still time, so I headed off in that direction.

I found the park, then the store, then went in the store. It was big, but had a lot of signs in English. Which is good, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to figure any of it out. (They had a lot of unique items.) I'll almost certainly be back, but at the time I was more excited by finding the store than looking in it.

I wandered around for a bit, then headed back home. There were a lot more stores and restaurants and cafes then I'd previously seen in Shibuya, but it was getting late. For all that I'd taken an indirect route with several wrong turns to get there, getting back was easy. It took around half an hour, and I'm confident in my ability to navigate back there again.

I think I know how I'm spending my Sunday. It's within walking distance, contains a lot, including cafes and other places to sit, and I now know how to go there and come back. Between exploring the stores, going to the park (and maybe the attached shrine too) and eating, I could definitely find things to do. And I could do it at whatever pace I want, and take not of where to come back to when I have less time. It beats my previous plan of just riding between Shinjuku and Jimbocho over and over again. (I need to make sure my monthly pass gets its value. And I'm sure the people riding the metro on a Sunday would be vastly entertaining.)

Posted by Soseki 04:31 Comments (0)

Got a Dime and a Dollar and a One Way Ticket Home

In class yesterday, I learned a really important sentence- 'This is hard to read because the characters are too small.' It was back to Tuesday's teacher, so there were less drawings.

After that, we had fifty minutes to eat lunch and get back to the school before we left for the Edo/Tokyo museum. Fifty minutes sounds like a lot. Given it's taken that long for some restaurants to serve us, it's really not. We ended up splitting the group into two, and eventually bought food at the family mart before going back to the school to eat it.

At the school, they gave everyone train tickets, and then we headed over to one of the train stations (not the one I'd arrived at) together. Once there, they reiterated 'four stops' a couple of times. Then we piled onto the train, making it nearly as crowded as it was in the morning, waited for stops, and got off. Then there was more waiting around, and then we got tickets to the museum and tickets back. And then we were free.

I continued to perpetuate the myth that I'm from Chicago and not a suburb too small to have a train station by having great fondness for JR lines. Tokyo has several different lines, but the main distinction is between JR and subway lines. Subway lines are below ground, JR are above. In short, JR is like the 'L.'

The museum was pretty. There were displays. I've never been overly fond of museums and not being able to read the explanations didn't make them grow on me that much. I did find another water fountain, proving they exist outside of train stations. It did, according to a sign, have the smell of the timber, though.

After we'd explored the museum for a bit, Kobe and I decided to go back. And that is where we did what characters in every great novel do- got on the wrong train. I'd had slight reservations, because none of the stations it said it went to sounded familiar. But Kobe had said that it was fine, and that was the line she used to get home. I should have been paying more attention when she'd been talking about how she got on the wrong train the day before.

After four stops we realized something was off. It took us about seven to realize it was going the wrong direction. Fortunately, we realized that right before the train stopped at Motoyawata station. I recognized that name, and I recognized it as being part of the Shinjuku line. So we got off their, transferred to the Shinjuku metro line, and proceeded to ride back.

The reason I recognized it was because, before the first day of school, I made a point out of memorizing it. I thought it might be important to know what the last station in the line was. It was a long wait back. At least we got seats.

Eventually, I managed to get back to my house. There, I met my old nemesis: the combination latch on the fence.

On Sunday, that was what stopped me from exploring right away. I had a key, but I wanted to be able to leave not just the house, but the property as well. Once I found my host mother, she demonstrated that it wasn't locking the two sides together, and you simply needed to lift it off one of the posts and the gate would open.

Yesterday, it was locking the two sides together. I rang the door bell, but no one answered. So I went back to a coffee shop and settled there for a while, then came back and tried again. Still nothing. By this point it was about 19:00, and I knew she'd be back by 20:00. So I had an hour to kill.

I went for a walk, and ended up in a park. The main difference between it and a park in US was in the wildlife. In the US, if you're walking around and something moves in a bus, it was probably a squirrel. In that park, it was usually a cat.

Once I got back to the house, my host mother apologized and gave me the combination for the lock so that it wouldn't happen again. So it was a long day, but not a bad one.

Posted by Soseki 23:30 Comments (0)

Take a Walk Downtown


Today, during the morning commute, I decided to try something new that I'd previously only seen people do: reading on the train. Given the number of places I've proven I can read (while walking, while riding in a car, while on top of a cannon) it didn't seem that undoable. It was only the number of people and risk of missing my stop that posed a problem.

Today, I decided that I'd been on the train enough to try. I was tired of reading the kanji for the same several stations, and I had an idea of how the actual riding the train worked. I knew I could read on the ride back, when I was sitting down in a mostly empty train. Crowded and gripping a handrail turned out not to be that different. Tomorrow, though, I want to bring a book that doesn't scream 'Tourist!' as loudly as a travel guide to Tokyo does.

There was a different teacher for class today. He spoke much faster, but was still understandable. There's a chance he might have had training as an actor (during dialogues, he would coach us on not just intonation, but feeling as well.) which would explain a lot. He used even less English than yesterday's teacher did, but far more pictures. He also mixed up the students more, so we weren't always talking with the people sitting next to us.

After class was over, I went with some of the same people I'd eaten lunch with to Akihabara. We were all hungry at that point, so we practically ate at the first place we saw. I and the other American managed to talk three Germans and a Canadian out of eating at Starbucks. We immediately after looked stupid because we described Denny's (the logo was the same) as being a breakfast place, serving things like pancakes. Then we picked up a flier advertising a very nice steak meal. We went there for lunch. I ordered a rice, egg, and chicken meal like my first meal in Japan. It's been a while since I've been to a Denny's in America, but that's not on the menu there, is it? (Fun fact about that meal: The Japanese name for it is 親子丼. 親 = kanji for parent. 子= kanji for child. I don't think Jewish law would like that very much.)

People, even people who have never been, have their own impressions of what Tokyo is like. I know I did. But I think that, if you asked a lot of people to describe it, most people would end up describing Akihabara.

You step out of the subway, and there's English. Not direction, brand names. Specifically, brand names for technology. A few steps farther, and there's a booth for Samsung Galaxy S III. Besides being the technological center of Tokyo, Akihabara also contains some of the more obsessed manga nerds. We didn't go out of our way to find them (no Maid Cafes that trip), and only really saw the manga in the book store.

Do you know what I love? Book stores that get to call themselves 'towers,' because there are nine floors. The first floor was mainly magazines, and the top two were mostly manga. But there were plenty or real books there. If books on computers weren't so expensive, I would have been tempted to pick up a book on LaTeX for Dr. Prince. It seemed like the sort of thing he'd like to have available if students came asking him for help.

After that, we went to an electronics store. I wandered around in a daze before I found my way up to the seventh floor and more books. (The titles were almost all in Japanese and I've not yet figured out the classification system apart from the fact that parts of it appear to be alphabetical. It was still less overwhelming than all the technology.)

After that we separated and went back home. That could have been a nerve-wracking experience to try and figure out the Tokyo metro, but it turned out that one of the stations (I think I saw three) was just two stops over from where I get off for school, so it wasn't so bad.

Posted by Soseki 02:05 Comments (0)

School Then Work and Then Life

First day of school. Not 'work' in a traditional sense, but still living.

The subway was slightly easier this time. I had more of an idea of what I was supposed to do, so I spent less time staring mutely at a machine until a Japanese person told me how to insert a ticket. However, I was so impressed with a 500 yen coin that I forgot to put it back in my wallet and consequently almost dropped it. Once on the train, I focused more on moving than I had yesterday. I managed to get out of the doorway, and was even at the point where I might have been able to grab a seat, but I only had one stop left so I didn't try.

I don't think I've ever been somewhere before where it's easier to find a vending machine than it is to find a water fountain. I've lost track of how many vending machines I've seen, but I've only seen water fountains in one station.

My preparation yesterday paid off, and I got to the school with no difficulty, and plenty of time to spare. I was the second one in the classroom, and that was only because I'd stalled on the way up.

In class (Conversation Level II, where Conversation I still presumes a prior knowledge of Japanese), we began by introducing ourselves. I was a bit surprised when 'science' joined 'watermelon' and 'knitting' as words the teacher thought was worth defining. Then again, I was also surprised when conjugations of 'sleep' didn't come automatically to everyone else, so that's probably an IMSA thing.

The teacher also handed out textbooks. It's been years since I've had a textbook in Japanese. It doesn't have any English in it, relying on pictures instead. We went through the vocabulary in class, so that helped as well. The weirdest thing it does with verbs is not use the dictionary and casual form. Instead, it uses the formal conjugation. However, it does assume knowledge of different conjugations, so that appears to be a conscious choice to be more formal.

During class, there was an earthquake. It was a small one- even a sheltered Chicagoan* like me could realize that. Even so, I hadn't really been in earthquakes before. There were really faint ones that often happened in the middle of the night, but nothing ground-shaking enough for me to stop and wonder what it was. So that was an experience.

Fun fact: the gender ratio is tipped in favor of the girls. I haven't done an exact count of either my class or the program as a whole, but I'd say it's roughly 2:1. This is exciting, because the last Japanese class I took ended with there only being one other girl in it and a good deal more males. So it's nice to be part of a majority.

After class I joined a group of about nine people to go find lunch. I have no idea what the exact number is because we'd barely made it out of the building when some of them decided to buy lunch at the Family Mart. There were now six of us who were still looking for food. After looking at and deciding against two restaurants, one person decided to give up and went into a different Family Mart and bought lunch there. The rest of us continued on.

We found a restaurant, but instead of going in, someone decided to walk quickly in the opposite direction. She couldn't give a good reason for why she didn't want to go in there. We were still a large group, and none of us had ever been in Japan before or had that good Japanese. The next restaurant we saw that served ramen I walked in, hoping that the rest of the group would follow me. They did.

There wouldn't have been a spot for us to sit, except that two people moved from the table they were at to a smaller one, so we got to sit together there. We couldn't read the kanji on the menu, but did get the waitress to explain what the dishes were. They came at vastly staggered times, and was a lot more food than any of us could eat, but it was good.

After that, we went back to the school for a yukata (summer kimono) lesson. We got to pick out a kimono, an obi, a pair of shoes, and a purse. Unfortunately, the pair of shoes were way too small for practically everyone. My feet didn't fit on them, and when I took them off I could see the lines they made.

A yukata is hard to part on. It didn't help that the instructions were given in Japanese, or that the demonstration was given with the model's back to me. However, with a teacher coming over to help practically every step of the way, I got the yukata on looking right.

After they were on came pictures. It was a lot like prom, only without three years of shared memories the groups that people took pictures with were a lot more random. There was also a group shot, or should I say twenty? After one 'official' picture was taken, the teachers asked who wanted their own group picture. Hands and cameras shot up everywhere, followed by a flurry of 'Look at the camera. Smile. Cheese.' I'm glad this wasn't one of those pictures where I needed to squat slightly the entire time.

Finally, after even more individual and small-group pictures, we were free to go. I took off my yukata and learned how to fold it properly. The shoes were gleefully taken off and barely not left behind, and then I went back to the subway. I found the exact place to wait easier than yesterday, but almost got on the wrong train. (I stopped myself because it looked too crowded and the sign said 'express') I was better able to predict motions when it would stop based on when it started slowing down, and got from the station back to the house without difficulty.

It used to be that the Japanese word I used the most was 'wakaranai' (I don't know/understand.) Since coming to Japan, that's changed to being 'daijoubu?'(OK?) While that's probably a good sign, it does mean still mean a lot of unfamiliar situations. At least I'm starting to understand them.

  • Traveling outside the Midwest changes my hometown from being a suburb of Chicago t o being Chicago. It's nice because Chicago is big enough that most people will recognize it, in a way they might not recognize it if I just say 'Illinois.'

Posted by Soseki 03:53 Comments (0)

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