Somewhere, waiting for one of the seven trains that took me from Koyasan to Tokyo, I took these photos. The “trauma” of potentially losing my phone receded the farther I got from the scene, and I started snapping away again.
Why would there be a zone designated “Boarding for women only,” you ask? Because women are so often groped on trains in Japan that it’s necessary. Yuk. I was never groped, probably because I was an obvious tourist.
For some perverse reason I enjoyed taking photos of ugly scenery. This was the winner.
It was a long, hot day. I was sweaty and felt grimy and tired. Something that kept me going was the prospect of shopping at the Uniqlo store in Omiya station, my final destination. Google showed that there was one; I was thoroughly sick of the four outfits I’d worn over and over for three weeks and looked forward to buying some fresh threads.
Omiya is a part of Tokyo a half hour from the center. Its population is about 114,000—bigger than many US cities. Omiya station, like Tokyo and Ueno and other stations, is enormous and filled with hundreds of convenience stores, florists, bakeries, noodle shops, pachinko parlors, clothing boutiques, you name it.
As usual the diagram I had studied on Google bore no relation to reality. A one-dimensional map cannot show you that there are three stories, skyways, and underground passages. It didn’t show me that there was an entire mall within the station, and once I stepped inside I was disconnected from the station. A map also cannot prepare you for the thousands upon thousands of commuters streaming in and out of the station at 5pm. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream or like that old game Frogger, when I had to dash in a zig zag pattern to get through mobs of people to cross from one side to another.
I searched for a half hour, then concluded that Google had been wrong; there was no Uniqlo. If there was one, it was not listed on the directory nor did it have an obvious storefront.
Next, I boldly stepped out into the main thoroughfare and headed in what I hoped was the correct direction to find my Air BnB. I passed a number of “soapland” entities, which is a euphemism for whore houses. No wonder the Air BnB was so cheap.
The directions had said the place was “5 minutes from Omiya Station,” and by golly, it was. I spotted the building and at the same time saw a stout lady on the external stairs shouting, “Hello! No lift!” I was so glad I’d shipped my suitcase on to Shimoda as I climbed three flights of stairs to meet my hostess, who turned out to be Chinese. She gave me a huge hug like I was her long-lost daughter and gave me a brisk tour using a combo of Chinglish and Google translate. I followed her as she demonstrated the lights, “Go Out, Off!” she emphasized three times before hugging me again. I knew I stank so she must have really liked the looks of me.
As in other low-rent Air BnBs in which I have stayed, everything was the cheapest quality possible, including the pilled, polyester bedclothes. But hey, it only cost $73 a night.
My new mom showed me the Air BnB app and told me, “I need 5 stars review, keep boss happy!” She guffawed and hugged me again, then disappeared.
Now, a shower! I couldn’t figure out the hot water system and I wasn’t taking a cold shower in a communal bathroom. I teared up in frustration. A hot shower would have to wait until after my next Herculean day of travel—tomorrow.
My Japanese family lives in Omiya, which is why I was there. My etiquette guide explained that foreigners are never invited into Japanese homes because people are ashamed of how small their digs are. So I didn’t take it personally when Fred suggested, through Skype, that we meet at the station and eat at a nearby restaurant.
I freshened up as well as I could with cold water, then headed out into the night.