So this one time…in Tokyo…I got lost.
Back in October 2012, Melissa and I took a cruise from Shanghai to Tokyo. I had never been on a cruise before, and I wasn’t sure I was the “cruising type,” but it was cheap, and we were desperate to get out of Shangers for a holiday, so we went. For the record, I’m not the “cruising type,” but I’ll save that for another story. Anyhow, about halfway through the week, we arrived at the port in Yokohama, close to Tokyo. Being that we would be at port for 24 hours, and the fact that it was Tokyo, Mel and I were pretty excited for our adventure. Little did I know, I was in for a bigger adventure than I bargained for!
Mel and I decided to spend our time in Tokyo with our newfound friends, Jr. and Gregory, who were really fun! Jr. and I, the “no cares in the world type” were just alike, as were Mel and Gregory, the “I need to know all the details and I’m going to listen to all the directions type.” It was a good thing Jr. and I had them to pay attention for us. 🙂 At the port information booth, Mel and Gregory gathered maps, figured out the best way to get into Tokyo, and figured out some sites for us to see, while Jr. and I lollygagged around, making each other laugh at the most random things.
With Mel and Gregory as tour guides, we set off for Tokyo, an hour or so away from Yokohama. Let me let you in on a little secret. Tokyo does not have nearly as much English as Shanghai, which we quickly figured out when we arrived at the train station to buy our tickets. No English on the ticket machines and no English signs meant we were pretty confused. After asking about five people, we found a nice man who helped us purchase our tickets. Mel and Gregory informed us that we would take one train to a bigger station, switch lines, and then ride that train into Tokyo, where we would head to our first tourist destination, a large outdoor market. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Once we arrived at the much bigger station, we once again had to navigate the Japanese-only ticket machines to purchase tickets for our next leg. Tickets in hand, we headed up to the platform to board our train.
The front of the train displayed, in both English and Japanese, the destination that it was headed. A few trains went by, and then one arrived with our destination listed on front. The only problem was that underneath the name was the word “Express.” Using my schema (I know, I’m such a teacher!) about trains, I alerted my friends that I was pretty sure that was the wrong train. Express trains usually only stopped at a few stops, hence the name “express.” Informing my friends that I was going to double-check, I turned to ask some of the Japanese people on the platform whether or not this was the correct train. Mel, Jr., and Gregory all jumped on the train, urging me to join them, confident in their choice. Again, using my schema of trains, I knew I had a little bit of time until the doors closed, so I was content remaining on the platform to ask my question. In Shanghai, you have anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute and a half before the doors close, and prior to them closing, you hear a series of beeps, warning you that the doors will close soon. My schema, being rooted in China, failed me in Japan. Not only did the doors stay open less time, there was no ‘beep, beep, beep’ indicating it was time to jump on. Uh oh!
Hearing my name being called out in desperation, I turn around just in time to see the doors of the train close with my three friends inside and me outside. Gregory’s fingers unsuccessfully tried to pry the doors back open. Panic spread across their faces as they began to fade away. Calling out to them, I told them that I’d just meet them at our final stop. I wasn’t a detail person, but I at least knew the name of the stop where we were going. Feeling confident, I waited for the next train headed to my destination- one that didn’t say express- and jumped on (For the record, I was right about the express train. It was the wrong one). Knowing where I was going, I settled in for the nearly 45-minute ride into the city. Popping in my earbuds, I jammed out to some music, feeling pretty proud of myself for being so calm despite being separated from my friends without a phone or a map. It’ll all work out, I told myself. These things always do.
Arriving at my destination, I jumped off, eager to greet my friends and begin my Tokyo adventure! Hmmm…they weren’t waiting for me on the platform. Knowing that they left first and were on an Express train, I figured they’d have arrived first and waited for me. Convincing myself that they must have headed to the market, figuring that we would just meet up there, I headed out of the train station. Greeted by rain, with no umbrella in hand, I was frustrated, but still determined to meet up with my friends. Once on street level, I quickly realized how helpful a map would have been, or at least listening to the oral directions the nice Japanese lady gave Mel and Gregory at the port. No signs directing me where to go…no problem! At random, I headed to the right, figuring I’d happen upon the market in no time. After walking about 10 minutes, I ran into an American who informed me that I’d gone the wrong way. Pointed in the right direction, I was so relieved when I located the market.
No friends were waiting at the entrance. I figured they’d gotten tired of waiting and had decided to check it out on their own. Meandering through the stalls, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds, I searched for my long-lost buddies. By now, you may have guessed it, but I did not find my friends. I did, however, run into about half of the people who were on my cruise, who happened to be on one of the excursions. At this point, my patience began to waver, and I felt, for the first time, that I may not find them. Wait! Melissa is a technology teacher, and she brought her tablet with her. Why didn’t I think of this before?!? Surely she has found internet somewhere and posted a message to me on Facebook! With a renewed determination, I set out in search of internet. How hard could it be? (Famous last words, huh?)
That logo with the green smiling lady beckoned to me. You know the one. Starbucks! The sign on the door indicating free wifi was like a beacon of light. I was saved! After buying an overpriced tea, I sat down and attempted to logon with my iPhone. Of course, I could only use the internet with a password that had to be sent via SMS to my phone. The same phone that only had reception and service in China. Such a bust! Rattled, but not giving up, I headed out in search of another coffee shop or restaurant with free wifi. Five or six places later, I learned something about Japan. It’s not a super internet-friendly place. I gave up on my Facebook post idea, and on the thought that I’d ever find my friends in Tokyo.
Figuring that I’m only in Tokyo once, I decided to make the best of it, and see something cool. I stopped at a few convenience stores in search of a map, only to discover that they don’t sell maps. OK, this was getting a little old. Frustrated, hungry, tired, and wet, I just started wandering. Nothing around me even looked like Tokyo. I wasn’t even sure I was really there. I happened upon a McDonald’s, where I stopped to get a Coke and fries. If you know me, you know I don’t even like McDonald’s, but there’s just something comforting about those golden arches when you are away from home and at your wit’s end. With renewed energy (most likely brought on by the chemicals coursing through my veins), I began my search for a bookstore. Surely I’d be able to find a map or a guidebook there.
Locating one, I walked in and was again overwhelmed by the lack of English (I know, I sound pretty whiny, but it was a whiny kind of day!). After numerous failed attempts at communicating with the store clerk, the tears began. Not full on crying, but those tears that come when you’ve tried so hard to hold it together, but you’ve been met with obstacle after obstacle. A nice English bloke happened to see me, and came over to check on me. Recalling my tale to him, he pointed me in the direction of the guidebooks, but being a traveler himself, couldn’t offer much advice. His kind words of encouragement gave me the boost I needed to pull myself together and press on. I picked up a Lonely Plant: Tokyo book, skimmed a few pages, and found a picture of “real” Tokyo. I want to go there, I thought. With not much to go on but a picture and the word Ginsa, the part of town it was in, I set off in search of the big city lights. I contemplated jumping in a taxi, but considering I would have no way of telling the cab driver were to go, I figured the subway was my best bet. Descending the steps into the first station I saw, I was taken aback. I happened to walk right into the Ginsa line. What are the odds of that?!? Buying a ticket to Ginsa (I figured it was a safe bet), I headed out.
Arriving at Ginsa station, I was greeted with another set of choices. With about twenty exits to choose from, I had no idea where to go, but I figured, I’ve gotten this far, who cares, right? Choosing an exit at random, I ascended the stairs to the street. I couldn’t believe what awaited me as I stepped out of the station. Right before my eyes was the picture I saw in the guidebook. Smiling from ear to ear, I took a moment to savor this. After encountering obstacles at every turn, something had turned out just right. Here’s my view from that night:
With just a few hours left until I needed to head back, I set off on a night out. After window shopping at the most expensive stores, eating some authentic sushi at a Japanese sushi counter, and plenty of zigzagging around the city, I was content and ready to head back.
Again, not having a map proved to be difficult, but through sheer determination and grit, I managed to find my way to a train station and navigate my way back to Yokohama station. Once there, I relied on memories to get me to the correct exit. My photographic memory comes in handy sometimes. 😉 On the street, I had a moment of panic, wondering which way to the boat, but after some searching, I saw the lights of the cruise ship in the harbor, and I followed them back. Arriving at my room, I expected to find Melissa. When I didn’t, I figured they must be out on the town. Shortly after I got out of the shower, there was a knock at my door. Upon opening it, I was greeted by Jr. with a surprised look and a hug, while he shouted, “You’re alive!!!”
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