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Real Life Doesn’t Cut to the Credits at the End – Tokaido Trip Concluded (Odawara – Nihonbashi)

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 11/01/2008)

I spent the night at a pretty nice net café in Odawara and got up early and waited for a bakery to open up in the train station.  After breakfast I wandered over to Odawara Castle and watched a dozen monkeys running around in circles frantically in a small pen.  These monkeys were so different from the one I had seen the day before.  I hate seeing animals in cages.  Pet shops really bother me too.  I think animals go crazy when you keep them in a pen.  I watched them for a long time, thinking about all that I learned in my Chimpanzees and Sign Language class last winter.  That was probably the best class I’ve ever taken.  I don’t know what the monkeys were doing there.  I think it was part of a zoo that they had on the grounds of Odawara Castle.

I walked at a pretty leisurely pace, stopping at another bakery and eating yet more pastries and then taking time to sit on the beach and watch the tide come in, and I still made it to Hiratsuka plenty early.  In front of the train station downtown I sat and listened to a South American flute and guitar trio.  They were really pretty good and it was fun to hear the happy music.  After they finished their performance I spent some time browsing in a bookstore nearby.  I talked with the woman who ran the store and she told me that she freaked out when she first saw me entering the store because she was worried I might not be able to speak any Japanese and she was very relieved when she found out I could.  We talked for a bit about various things like my trip and the town of Hiratsuka and Japan and Oregon and then I browsed for what must have been at least an hour.  I love bookstores and about the only thing I love more than bookstores is libraries.  When I left the woman behind the counter gave me a pack of rice crackers as a present and wished me luck.

I spent the night in kind of a hole-in-the-wall net café and spent the next day walking from one city to the next with the only thing to distinguish them from each other being a sign marking the boundary.  I began to see gaijin every now and then when I got near a major train station.  I looked at them with reproachful disdain.  I found myself thinking, “Oh man!  Look at that foreigner!  He’s so… so… foreign!  What is he doing here?  Can he even understand Japanese?  I bet not.  He shouldn’t be here.  This is my Japan!”  I had to stop and think about that for a while.  Was I thinking about myself as a Japanese person or was I thinking that it made me less of a foreigner if there were other foreigners around too?  I don’t really know but out there I felt like they were encroaching on my turf.  Maybe it is part of some sort of reaction to the way I have been treated by most of the Japanese people along the way.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been some very nice people and I have had some really great experiences befriending them and talking with them but the majority of the Japanese people I have run across on this part of the trip have looked at me in a way that makes me feel very, very foreign and it has been kind of discomforting.

I spent the ev3ening in a McDonald’s in Hodogaya and then got the five-hour night pack at the net café across the plaza.  This meant I had to get up and leave at four in the morning so I found a nice warm stairway next to the net café that was no longer being used because they blocked the doors off when they put the elevator in and I spent the rest of the night sleeping very comfortably there.

And finally it was time to begin the last day.  I walked through downtown Yokohama and saw Minato Mirai off to my right.  Minato Mirai is a business district of Yokohama and is supposed to be a vision of what future cities will probably look like.  It is quite impressive with all of its sleek, tall buildings rising overhead.  Yokohama is interesting because of all the hills it is built upon.  In Japan, usually people don’t build on hills because of all of the earthquakes but it must be different for some reason in Yokohama.  Also, I think the US military base is nearby so jets and helicopters were flying by overhead all the time.

Despite getting some decent sleep the night before I was really tired still so I took a lot of breaks in the morning.  I stopped in the park and several pigeons dropped in to see if I had any food that I would share wuith them.  I watched some guys setting up for a pick-up hockey game in the middle of the park.  An old guy walking by stopped to pick up some half-used cigarettes he saw on the ground next to the bus stop, lit one up, and continued on his way.  A woman with a baby in a stroller walked by and I chuckled when I saw the kid was totally zonked out.

I stopped in Kawasaki City about 10:30 and had some more French toast and coffee at another Denny’s.  This really seemed to help and I continued on with new energy.  About midday I reached the boundary of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

As I crossed the bridge there was a very different feeling from the cities I had just been in.  The buildings were taller, there were more of tehm, and people were walking around everywhere.  In Shinagawa City there was a big sign that said, “We declare “Traffic Safety”.”  Good to know, I guess.  I stopped to grab a sandwich from an AM/PM and the toothless old guy behind the counter grinned at me and said, “You’re really skilled at Japanese, huh!” even though all I had said was really simple things like “hello” and “I don’t need a receipt.”  I thought I would get away from that kind of behavior once I reached Tokyo but apparently even here a foreigner is a foreigner is a foreigner.

As I sat there eating my sandwich I watched two window washing guys racing each other down the side of a skyscraper.  One guy definitely seemed more skilled and he finished an entire column (from top to bottom) before the other guy had gone down half way.  It looked like a pretty interesting (if not scary) job and I was reminded for a moment of the Japanese drama GTO and the opening scene where the main character is working with his friends way up high cleaning windows.  It doesn’t take much skill to clean windows but I bet the job pays pretty well because it is kind of scary to do all that while hanging from a rope.  The skilled guy bounced back and forth from one side of the window to the other, soaping the window on one pass and squeegeeing it on the way back.  It was pretty cool.

The further I got into the city the more crowded it became and the more difficult to move without running into people.  Twice I did a nervous little dance with young businessmen as we tried to figure out which direction to dodge and both times I apologized to them in Japanese and they apologized to me in English.

I passed through Roppongi Hills (a place famous for having a large population of foreign residents) and walked right by Tokyo Tower.  I had never had any interest in these places before but after walking through them I wouldn’t mind going back and checking them out again because they were actually kind of cool.

I must have passed by the central police station of Tokyo or something because for awhile there everywhere I looked there were policemen.  A little after dark I finally arrived at Nihonbashi.

I didn’t really know what to think when I got there.  In fact, at first I wasn’t even sure where the actual end was.  There wasn’t any sort of special ending, it just stopped.  I wasn’t sure how I felt.  Happy?  Sad?  Tired?  Definitely.  Mainly I just felt kind of empty.

I sat in Starbucks awhile (there is one on either end of the Tokaido) and sent some emails to my family and friends.  After that I got on the subway (the trip began with a train ride also) and rode a crowded train to Shinjuku.

Shinjuku Station was totally packed with people running all over the pale.  There were extremely hairy and smelly homeless people sitting in the corners in their nests.  One really hairy mountain man began approaching me as I stood there looking at a map trying to figure out where to go and he looked so desperate but I didn’t want to talk with him so I left.  I felt bad.  I really want to learn more about homeless people and the situations of homeless in different countries but I was so tired and sweaty that I just wanted to find my hotel and be alone for awhile.  As I was exciting the station a rat came bouncing along, dodging between all the busy human traffic, and excited the station in front of a group of screaming girls.  Rats are always good for excitement.

I spent the night at the Capsule Inn Shinjuku, a really awesome place despite the seedy neighborhood in which it is located.  You get all the benefits of a regular hotel (except a private bath and a place to charge your cellphone) for about $30 per night.  What a deal.  I took a nice long bath, read some manga and watched some TV while I waited for my laundry to finish, and purchased an extremely overpriced soda from the vending machine because I was quite thirsty, and then went to bed.  I awoke to the sound of crows outside (the same sound I heard two and a half years ago when I awoke from my first night in Japan!) took another bath and began my exploring of Tokyo!

But, I’m almost out of time in the net café so for now this is all I’m going to write.  The rest should follow in a separate entry anyway because the Tokaido journey is now over.  I’m still searching for deeper meanings to the trip and trying to figure out how I feel and what this has done for me and how I will use it in the future.  I’ve got lots of thinking to do about this trip.  Someday there will be many pictures to see as well.

So, that’s it for now.  Tomorrow my friends are coming to Tokyo and we begin another adventure.

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