Tag Archives: Shimoda

Uniqlo No

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.

You say Shimoda and I say Shimota

Back at the New Tohoku after the day at the seaside, my Restless Legs woke me every 45 minutes.  I finally gave up at 1am and cracked open my book.  Then my brain did a side eye to my phone, sitting on the bedside table.

I try not to look at my phone after 9pm.  “They” say the blue light stimulates your brain and keeps you awake.  But I had posted some photos on Facebook … had anyone Liked them?  I tried to resist, then grabbed the thing and saw who had Liked and commented on my photos, tried to read my book again, went back to Facebook after 10 minutes like an alcoholic who says, “Just one more,” repeat.

Social media is like those pellet dispensers in B.F. Skinner’s psychological experiments.  You know, the one’s where the rat gets a food pellet every time it performs whatever task the researcher is trying to teach it.

I wasn’t being taught a new trick (that I am aware of).  I was succumbing to intermittent reinforcement.  This is where a reward is dispensed intermittently, and it’s the most addictive kind.  On social media, you never know when you’re going to get rewards, or in what form.  When there’s a flood of them, you get a rush, so you try and try to get a repeat.  Ugh.

I gave up on sleep at 4:30am and did some rejiggering of my itinerary.  As I’ve mentioned, I was going to have my nine-year-old nephew, Charlie, for five nights at the end of the trip, and after much research with Keiko we had settled on Hakone as the ideal destination.  Hakone is a resort area about an hour from Tokyo.  It’s got cable cars, a lake with boat tours, and lots of kid stuff to keep an active child busy.

But Keiko had received an alert from the Japan Meteorological Agency about volcanic activity near Hakone.  According to NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, Hakone’s cable cars were closed, there was danger of landslides, and some local restaurants couldn’t get black eggs—a local delicacy—because certain roads were shut.

We would have to cancel Hakone and find another destination.  We lobbed ideas back and forth on Skype, then she and her dad suggested the Izu Peninsula.  When I saw there was a city at the very southern point called Shimoda, I figured it was a sign, since as I wrote in a previous post I have an ancestor from Shimota in the former Czechoslovakia.  I have built travel plans around flimsier hooks.

I started getting What’s App messages from Lynn, who had landed at Narita.  It took her an hour and 45 minutes to get from her gate to the Skyliner, the airport train which took another hour and 15 minutes to arrive at Ueno.  I could see why Keiko had insisted on flying into Haneda, which is so much closer in to central Tokyo.

I would not make Lynn try to find the hotel on her own.  I walked to the station, then serendipitously decided to wander a bit and discovered there was a separate station with the same name across the street, just for the Skyliner.

To kill time I took photos of panda buns and a posse of school kids.

There were many groups of cute little kids, but I would never take photos of small children.  I figure high schoolers are fair game because they’re posting selfies all the time anyway.

I spotted Lynn and we were off.  I insisted on carrying her suitcase up the 30 stairs.  She fought me but I won, this time.  Lynn always travels with a very small bag—just one step up from a carry on.  But it’s like a black hole—tiny but extremely heavy.

“What the hell have you got in here?” I asked as I huffed up the stairs.

“A very large bottle of whiskey for Vince,” she replied.

Vince, my son who is in recovery.  This is not what it seems.  Lynn’s husband Richard had sourced a very good bottle of whiskey with which Vince would pay the officiant at his wedding in two months’ time.

Speaking of which, here’s another photo:

Anne in Shimoda

From the serene mountaintop monastery, I took a bus, a cable car, seven trains, spent one night at a Air BnB cum flop house in the red light district of northern Tokyo, and took two more trains and a bus to a sleepy seaside city called Shimoda.   Funnily enough, I had a Czech great grandmother named Anna Shimota.

I’m here with my nephew, who has chosen the pseudonym Charlie for when I mention him in social media.  I won’t be sharing any photos of him, so here’s a mental picture: he’s nine, with those just-grown-in adult teeth.  He’s got brown plastic glasses held on with an elastic strap that runs around his head and makes his big brown eyes even bigger.  Neither fat nor skinny.  Top him off with a thick mop of brown hair.

Charlie is not allowed to watch TV, movies, or play online games at home.  He’s got permission to do some of that on this mini vacation with me, and he’s like a radar detector for all opportunities to do so.  Forbidden fruit, I guess.

Charlie is somewhere between a kid and a teenager.  There is a child’s yukata in the room, and I was sure he would eschew wearing it because it’s got bunnies on it.  But he put it on right away.

It’s been raining all day.  We ventured out and Charlie spent 20 minutes throwing rocks into the ocean while I huddled in a bus shelter nearby.

Right now I can just see the top of his head and one foot as he lies on his futon watching TV and cuddling the stuffed dolphin he bought with his own money at the Shimoda aquarium yesterday.  There is a pile of snack wrappers next to his futon.  It looks like his suitcase exploded, spewing clothes everywhere.  I made him green tea and he promptly spilled it all over his sheet.

“You’re like that character Pig Pen, in the Charlie Brown stories,” I commented.  He grinned.

I’m not used to a TV constantly blaring, so it’s taken me forever to write this post.  Since I know only three words of Japanese, all the yammering on TV sounds alike, with lots of people yelling excitedly about who-knows-what.  There is lots of “Hai! Hai, hai, hai,”—which literally means “Yes” but is the Japanese filler word, like English speakers say, uh-huh, and folks in the middle east say, yanni.

Right now there is something on TV featuring people who are very excited about cantaloupe.  They’re buying cartloads of it at the grocery, and families are sitting around their tables, each eating half a cantaloupe.  As with most shows here, there are small screens in the corners featuring people watching and nodding their heads …

Charlie flips the channel: a news show with Shinzo Abe and other pols, all wearing yellow feathers in their button holes.  Why?

Next channel: A home improvement show, with everyone wearing slippers.

Next channel: individuals demonstrating gift-wrapping techniques followed by a demonstration of how to fold an origami water beetle.

Charlie is not the only Internet addict.  When we walked into the room I was enchanted by the view, then dismayed to find there was no wifi except in the lobby, three floors below.  The old lady at the desk shrugged helplessly and gave me a weak smile.  I’m sure she wondered what the big deal was.  Why does everyone get so worked up about this newfangled technology thing that will probably turn out to be just a fad?

My laptop (but not my phone) can detect a couple of free open networks.  I’ve been able to connect once.  Now the siren call of the free public wifi is just grinding away; tantalizing me with hopes of seeing which friend of a friend’s birthday is today.

Once again, maybe I need to accept this as a non-voluntary but healthful digital detox.

We did go down to the lobby this morning to Skype with Charlie’s dad, mom, and little brother.  Immediately as we got connected and were smiling and waving, the old lady came from behind the reception desk and announced she was going to vacuum now (Charlie translated for me).  Sigh.