The Great Journey
It’s a beautiful day in Tokyo, about eighty-eight degrees but a nice breeze is blowing (sign of impending typhoon) so it’s not so bad. I’m eating a light lunch of very juicy plums and an orange at Waseda University. This is the most spread out (and attractive) Japanese college I’ve yet to visit. I heard it was prestigious, maybe the equivalent an ivy league school. It even has a gift shop, albeit much smaller, but quite similar to its American counterparts. I bought a WU shirt at the store (apparently their mascot is a cute teddy bear), and the girl at the register liked my jogging pack. I said thank you and commented on the weather. You have no idea how wonderful it feels when I can actually understand what a stranger says to me and say something appropriate in return.
I don’t know time it is, but judging by how long I’ve been out and the sun, I’d say about 1:15. I’ve adopted my standard meandering form with the general goal of going northeast, and perhaps swinging by One’s for dinner on the way home. I thought about going to a club but that’s something I need to be in the mood for at the moment of actually going. I really want to work on some photography tonight since I’ve been on the phone about twelve hours over the last three days.
After leaving the house I made a rather generous loop to cover only a couple blocks in Nishi-Shinjuku, discovering another shouten dori and a nice Shinjuku office park complex. Eventually I found myself (by pure luck) in Okubo and crawling down the crowded streets where I first wandered around last June when I first moved to Japan, in search of second-hand stores. This time I stopped at the game center “Game Goose” and tried my hand at the first adult themed UFO Catcher I’d seen. Needless to say I did not win the sex DVD collection, as picking up a heavy multi-DVD case on its side with a little crane requires insane precision on finding the fulcrum (if it is indeed possible at all). I played two rounds of fifty yen Super Puzzle Bobble and wished I had a secret little video camera to tape the FMV strip mahjong games so I could show you, but alas, I have yet to procure such a toy. I passed a Big Boy’s when I swung near Waseda-Okubo campus again but didn’t stop, figuring there were more interesting things to take photos of than that.
The plums were pretty bland, I wonder what gives fruit a sweet taste as opposed to no taste? The orange was good, but I really should have brought some “wet ones”, my hands look like I’ve just strangled Garfield.
I wonder how Tokyo compares to Manhattan in size. I suppose it’s actually smaller. That, or I bicycle like a madman (which I did for a solid seventy minutes listening to Forbidden Forest). I’m in a ticket food shop in Kanda now. Apparently I was right on the money when I guessed it was 1:15. And having only eaten fruit for lunch, along with biking for almost two hours, I’m of course starving. I’m sure I could be a tracker, or a guide or something. I have this uncanny ability to know where I am at all times, mostly out of instinct. Like three times today I was in a place I’d never seen before and just from my gut I took turns that seemed wrong at first in the “thinking” side of my mind, but after fifteen seconds they turned out to lead exactly where I’d stopped for rest on a previous journey. Like the air, or the ground, or something, it just felt right. Using the sun, my mental image of the map and the occasional sign, I have wound my way through neighborhoods rich and poor, parks and rivers, attractions and alleys.
From Waseda I split north and ran right into Edogawabashi (which is odd because it’s at the Kanda river, not the Edo). This is where I ventured last winter and met a cart-pulling roast sweet potato vendor. There were no fewer pigeons this time around, but more joggers. I darted farther north into Kohinata, a very steep elevated area of pristine roads and expensive looking residences. With my Enjoy in low I trucked it up half a dozen winding, thirty degree hills, at one time coming a hair’s breadth from having my head clipped by the mirror of a speeding truck. Slicing up and down, switchbacking through the residential areas, I cut far north of Kagurazaka and taking a sudden impulse turned under an archway, landing right in the middle of Tokyo Dome City, nearly driving into the water luge ride. It’s a nice little place: a rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, and Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant, right in the heart of the city.
I bolted for Ochanomizu and passed just north of sotobori through Hongo, stopping at Kanda Jinja for prayer before pulling up minutes later into the dead center of Akiba. A group of promotional workers in anime’ style schoolgirl costumes were handing out tissues (the most popular form of mass advertising in Japan). I don’t think the guys in drag were really doing anything for the business but there was one cute girl with ridiculously large glasses and a purple skirt that gave away a lot depending on your viewing angle. I sat on the guard rail at the corner sipping sougenbicha. I thought I was out of the way but apparently not enough– I felt pretty lousy when the girl walked into my bike’s rear fender and scuffed up her leg. I almost apologized but I’m sure a sweaty, tall foreigner with crazy hair and CIA sunglasses isn’t the kind of character she really wants hanging around watching her do her job.
Damn, hojicha is good in the summer. It looks like I’ll run out of shots on the Canon long before I get back home, gonna have to do some premature culling out bad shots.
I just walked into One’s, a pit stop that use to signal the end of a long journey back to Sendagaya. “Clocks” came on the radio about the instant I sat down. I’m taking it not only as a sign, but irrefutable proof that all is right, in a sea of swimming, laughing, growing, so far away from Virginia sort of way.
After leaving Kanda I rode down route 15 (center street) all the way to Hamamatsuchou. In the process I stopped at the Nihonbashi river, glided through glittering Ginza, and nearly got cornered off in the bay around Shinbashi. They closed off a couple blocks of the street near Tokyo station, it was pretty nice. They had cafe tables and foot and stuff set up in the street. For me it was complete driving bliss, though admittedly I was being a little reckless. The wide open street made me want to high ball it through, standing up and pumping the pedals in top gear. However, the abundance of pedestrians and diners made this a little difficult, so I took great joy and bobbing and weaving through the crowd, gunning it and pouring on the breaks as inconspicuously as possible. I think I’ve played too many driving video games, but it was an absolute blast. Fortunately no one was even grazed thanks to my mid-twenties reflexes and countless hours logged doing balance tricks on the bike.
After seeing the fifth or sixth sign advertising that the road was going to Shinagawa and Kawasaki, I realized I was pulling a little too far south for my starting to tire body and hung a sharp turn to follow the fading sun into Roppongi. You can always tell when you’re close to Roppongi simply by the number of non-Japanese people walking around, usually middle-aged white men. I didn’t hang around long since by this time my camera was protesting loudly that the battery was about gone (very disappointing), and I carried my bike down a couple sets of stairs to get through the Roppongi-Gaien tunnel and end up at the southern end of Aoyama Cemetery.
Some of my last shots came as the sun was falling behind the taller headstones in the cat filled, largely neglected graveyard. I stopped to read the barely legible epitaph of a one Dr. Baty who moved to Japan in 1916 from England and served the Department of Foreign Affairs in legal counsel until his death in 1956. The last line said that Japan’s diplomacy owed him a large debt to his skill and contributions. I wonder if stuff on headstones is really true, and who comes up with it. The fact that there’s anything at all is interesting enough, because it gives me something to think about, and he’s remembered in one way or another (I’m sure he never imagined he’d be mentioned in a public digital diary in the twenty-first century.) Good for him though. I think foreigners have a little extra responsibility to do something good for the countries they reside in, at least me for the all the trouble I cause for not understanding a damn thing.
The button just came off my underwear in the bathroom but I don’t care, I realized fully today is that Tokyo is a remarkably beautiful and diverse city. There is so much here, so much that makes my head spin. Every square meter is interesting, every building just a cover to a story and history so amazing. I bet I could give bike tours of central Tokyo. That could be cool. I’m so happy just riding around, taking everything in. Tokyo is my home, and I can’t think of it any other way. Funny how attached I get to stuff. I guess that’s why plants (and to a lesser extent animals) are great. They’re yours, they ask nothing, and you just have to sprinkle them with a little TLC once a day. They’re alive, just like us! Pulp is on the radio now. There’s a band I haven’t heart in forever. I think it all got stolen when my Grand Prix was ransacked by a crackhead. Time to hit Kazaa and do some old school Britpop grooving tonight.
So all in all I was out eight hours, 11:30-7:30. I’ll guess that eating, sitting at stoplights, and taking pictures was two to two-and-a-half hours, and given that the average speed for a bicycle is ten to fifteen miles an hour, we can estimate I travelled a decent amount, if that sort of thing matters. There’s no way I could figure it out from a map because I almost never take a straight path, I make turns based on things that catch my eye for photography, or on a hunch that something interesting follows a certain road. I’m not sore, yet, but I have a light sunburn on my arms and nose. Oh well. Good exercise, right? It was blast but I realize I need to restock my memory and battery cache for the Powershot before I do something like this again (and possibly in the interest of my health get another bike more suited for this sort of thing).
Time: seven hours, fifty-four minutes
Food: two and a half meals (plums, beef curry, One’s cheeseburger with fries)
Photographs: one hundred and four
Videos: two (rollercoaster)
Souvenirs: Waseda university t-shirt and a six pack of beer for the fridge