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I've been pushed around in trains, burned by the sun, and propped up on stilts. It's been a good Friday.
The day after our dreaded midterm had the class head off to Harajuku for what I thought was a 9:00 AM start. After getting washed and dressed a half-hour later than normal, I headed out at 8:05 AM for the train station to catch the train into the bustling hub of Shinjuku.
There, I experienced the morning rush as I never could have imagined.
The train arrived at Ogikubo, opened its doors, and a few people got out. From there on out, it was an everyday matter to squash ten people into a space barely big enough for five. I was among the first in, and made my way to the center of the car. The last people in actually walked in backwards to fully press their weight against the mass of people in the car. At this density level, people more or less act as one mass: grabbing onto handles is completely redundant. Pressed against people on all sides -- including a young child right in front of me -- we headed out. Three more stations before Shinjuku provided even more people, and those who expected to get out before the major hub had to literally shove their way out of the car to blaze a path for themselves. I went from having zero personal space to having negative personal space: for the latter half of this first leg, people were pushing against my chest non-stop. After transferring to the equally busy Yamanote Line to arrive at Harajuku, I was relieved to be out of the train and trying not to think about the many sources of the sweat on my shirt.
In a society which has historically looked down upon physical contact between strangers, the subway system represents an unusual modern challenge. Thousands upon thousands of commuters go through the same hell every day, crammed into impossibly crowded cars. Conductors exist on station platforms to push people into trains. Even in New York, a city notorious for its hectic pace, people will wait for the next subway train if the current one is full. Both Tokyo and New York run trains every couple of minutes during rush hour, but Tokyo workers absolutely must get on the train at all costs. The nightmare of commuting is a real detriment for outsiders like myself, and represents a key reason why I wouldn't want to live and work in the city full time. (Of course, there are also buses and personal cars, but the roadways are horribly congested as well.)
I arrived at Harajuku at 8:40 AM, giving me plenty of time to rehydrate and seek out the station exit where I would meet my class. After about ten minutes of walking up and down the block, I thought I had found the right place. No students or professors were waiting for me there. I walked around again, looking for the "South Entrance" as directed on the instruction sheet. Unlike most stations, there was no entrance explicitly named "South Entrance," but the station clerk confirmed that I was at the right location on the map given to us in class yesterday. At 9:05 AM, five minutes after I thought we were supposed to meet, I decided to call my professor's mobile phone to ask where everyone was.
One minute and 210 yen later, I realized that I wasn't five minutes late -- I was 25 minutes early. We were to meet at 9:30 AM. D'oh.
Sure enough, after we all gathered at the correct time, we were off.
Sighting: A member of the Imperial family was driven in a motorcade past the entrance to the Meiji shrine as we walked nearby. The guard on duty saluted the cars. Neat. We didn't enter the shrine, but took plenty of pictures near the giant gates.
Today's event was the annual Greater Tokyo Festival or Oo-Edo Matsuri, which celebrates Tokyo's history. Traditional games, crafts, and some modern foods available at moderate prices. I bought a melon-flavored shaved ice; a bottle of Ramune soda, which comes in an unusual bottle sealed with a marble; and a few sticks of yakitori. Total cost: seven tickets, worth ¥700 ($5.80). All the fun produced tons of photo opportunities for myself and my classmates, and I captured a ton of photos and video clips using my camera.
After a tasty lunch at an Italian buffet restaurant (buffets are called baikingu, literally "Viking," in Japan) we each went our separate ways. After a little shopping in Harajuku's energetic youth-oriented marketplace, we felt the first few raindrops and headed back to the station. Since it was still a bit early, I thought I would play a few games at the arcade near Ogikubo station and head home.
The rains which drenched Tokyo last evening returned today just after I got to Ogikubo station, as the sky turned from blue to gray to black. Pitch black. Black as night. The rain started slowly but quickly accelerated to a torrential downpour. Since I didn't have my backpack, I had no umbrella, and I thought I could wait out the rain in the department store and arcades in the station area.
One hour passed. Two hours passed. Rather than try to wait out the rain, I decided to bite the bullet, buy an umbrella for a surprisingly low price (¥630, or $5.25), and walk home solo. Thankfully, I didn't buy anything that might have been soaked, but the time was wasted anyway. It's okay -- I haven't had this much fun on a class day since I've been here.
Over dinner, my older brother Toshi pointed that my arms looked unusually red. I've been outside long enough in a day to get sunburned. Rock.
The rains that have hit Tokyo for the past two days are projected to hit again on Saturday evening. Hopefully they won't wash out the fireworks festival planned for tomorrow evening, which I hope to visit with a friend of my older brother's.
My rating in Taiko no Tatsujin 3 has risen to "Taiko no Meijin," the second-highest rating behind "Taiko no Tatsujin." My dictionary defines both "Meijin" and "Tatsujin" as "master, expert." It's a shame that the game isn't available in the U.S. and likely won't be imported due to its Japan-centric content.
The fighting games at most arcades in Japan are set up so that the first player and second player sit at opposite machines and do not see each other during play. This means that it's possible to sit at an opposite machine and impatiently wrest control of the game by challenging the current player. There's no way for the two machines to play independently, probably because they use the same central hardware. I was playing along just fine until a guy put his coin in, challenged me, and turned me into carpeting. I'm not bitter. Really.
Some meta-statistics: so far I've taken about 300 digital photos in Japan, and a number of video clips. Including this update, my writings while in Japan have exceeded 32,000 words in length. That's more than 206 kilobytes of text, and some 200 megabytes of photographs. I'll put some photos on the web after I'm back in New York, but they will be scaled down to reduce download times and fit into my disk quota.
Now I know where all the freaks congregate on Sundays in Shibuya. I didn't visit that spot this past Sunday, but I might try to go on August 11. This coming Sunday, I'm heading into downtown Tokyo to see the Godzilla statue. That trip originates in Shibuya, appropriately enough.
It's another early start on Saturday as this crazy weekend continues.