Dave's thoughts, travels, and a place to vent.

Month: April 1996

Kanazawa / Togi

Pretty cold this morning. The heater ran out of kerosene just before the room warmed up, and I couldn’t locate any more. It was a little uncomfortable. I had to wait 2 hours for a bus to the train station, but finally got there and made Japan Rail’s reservation agents’ lives really complex by requesting a whole lot of train reservations. I currently had around 40,000 yen to my name, so I figured I was in pretty good shape (I was hoping to make it back to Yokohama without having to take any more money out).

I got to Kanazawa OK, and took Nami and Satako’s advice and did a bit of sightseeing before my bus left for Togi. Didn’t have too much time, so I headed for the Kenrokuen gardens. Quite beautiful. I have some pictures of the gardens, which looked quite nice. A few cherry blossoms out at the time (which was strange, because it was so cold). Headed back to the station, and took the bus to Togi (around an hour and a half). Kevin picked me up, and gave me the driving tour of Togi, including one very nice point near the ocean, a large cliff, which he said was the site of many famous suicides (artists and such – typical). We headed back to town, and grabbed dinner, then went to Kevin’s Drum-teacher’shouse to visit a real Japanese family for a bit (this was Kevin’s idea, one which I really enjoyed). I chatted with Kevin’s sensei for a while (with Kevin’s help – his Japanese is better than mine), while the sensei’s kids (a young boy and girl), ran around being hyperactive brats. It was pretty cute though. I’ve never seen a tantrum like the little girl put up when she was put in bed and told to go to sleep.

Togi / Nagasaki

This was mostly a day of travel. Woke up at 6:10am, and since Kevin doesn’t leave his heater on, the room was easily cold enough to see my breath. This is one Japanese custom I can do without. Call me “conventional”, but I happen to like a warm house.

I grabbed a bus from Togi, back to Kanazawa at 6:50am, then waited an hour for my train to Osaka. During this time, I called my mom to put in a status update, then gave Nami a call (I was really feeling guilty about not sending a postcard like I promised to – My reasoning was that I would probably get back before the postcard did). I suppose I should’ve asked Nami if it was OK to call her sister when I hit Yokohama, however I figured that if Yumi-san was anything like her younger sister, she would enjoy a call from one of her sister’s students. During the train trip to Osaka, I met some rather cute highschool girls, on their way to a friend’s place in Osaka. I chatted with one of the girls (Yuki Mikado), for the entire trip. Yuki said that she was going to a private school to become a hospital nurse. At one point, she mentioned that she was single – a shame that I didn’t live in Japan – she was 18, and didn’t seem to care at all that I was a few years older than her. We parted ways in Shin-Osaka, and I grabbed the Shinkansen to Hakata, then from Hakata, a normal train to Nagasaki.

At this point, I made the only true “mistake” on my part, and I can only attribute it to not paying attention. I got off one stop early on the train. No big deal, I just waited for the next train, and 5 minutes later, was in Nagasaki. Quickly went to the hostel, checked in, showered, then spent around a half-hour playing with the remote-control for the heater/air-conditioner before going to sleep. There were a lot of Germans in Nagasaki for some reason. A few guys in my room were German (they were very nice, and loved to chat about travel adventures!).


Oh, how time flies. It felt like I’d only been in Japan for a week or so. I headed off for the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Park around 9:30am, then went to the museum. I didn’t find it as “moving” as Hiroshima’s exhibit. There were more “artifacts” here, but not as many displays relating to the people affected. There were some very interesting video presentations at the end (the first had approximately 40 different bomb-survivors telling their stories), and the second was an excellent video presentation about the evolution of the Atomic Bomb, and A-bomb testing. Went to the Glover Gardens (which is the location where the play “Madam Butterfly” is based on). Toured around the various buildings in the gardens, and watched the numerous (and large) carp in the ponds (note: These carp follow people! I’m not making this up! If you walk around the side of the pond, the carp follow you under the water!). Had McDonald’s for lunch today – it’s cheap, tastes the same as North America, and is reasonably easy to find in Japan.

Nagasaki / Yokohama

Ate a regular breakfast today (toast with jam, coffee, etc.). Watching Japanese TV in the morning can be a “heavy” for breakfast entertainment. The news program on TV was showing a report on wife-abuse, with some rather realistic video clips – not exactly the kind of “early morning fluff” you see here. Got to Nagasaki station at 9:15 (Train leaves at 10am for Hakata). Updated my list of “things to buy” (souvenirs):

  • Macross Plus Movie
  • City Hunter OAV – Secret Service
  • MiniDisc Player/recorder
  • Cassette Tape Deck
  • MD Media (10 Discs)

After around 8 hours of train travel (2 hours to Hakata, then 6 hours to Yokohama), I arrived, and booked into the Yokohama hostel. I’m really watching my money carefully now, I have around 22,000 yen left, but why take chances? While I was waiting for the Shinkansen, I noticed a young girl selling bento to travelers. She looked rather cold (it was cool, and a strong wind was blowing past the station), so I waited until just before my train left, and ran down and bought her some hot tea from one of the vending machines. She looked a little puzzled when I handed it to her, but she accepted it. Perhaps this sort of generosity just isn’t that common in Japan? I was also getting another “long stare” from another girl on the Shinkansen (I’ve heard that Japanese women like foreigners – this seems to be at least partly true).

At Kyoto, two very drunk old businessmen got on the train, and sat right behind me. I listened to their conversation (it was hard not to), and got a grin as one guy started explaining to the other that the young man that his daughter was dating was a complete idiot. Funny, this guy reminded me exactly of a character from Maison Ikkoku. No problem finding the hostel, or checking in.


The rudest awakening yet in Yokohama. The parento-san (manager) started playing a pop-music radio station over the PA system at 7am. I wandered around a bit after leaving the hostel, going past a huge hotel, with an equally huge ferris wheel (in the Guinness book of records) next to it, then wandered down to the park, then to China Town to look around, then to the main “shopping street”.

I found a dealer there, whom I eventually bought my MD recorder from. I called VISA to inquire where I could find an ATM, and got directed to another store near Yokohama Station. On the way to catch the train to THAT store, I found a PLUS system ATM on my own and grabbed 60,000 yen. I took the train back to Yokohama station, then looked around the shopping center. For lunch, I visited a store in the bottom of one of the Departos, and really burned the inside of my mouth on this deep-fried, battered chicken-pasta dish. I should’ve given it a few more minutes to cool down I guess. We just don’t get meals cooked like that in North America, so I was totally unprepared for how searingly hot it would be.

I decided to give Nami’s sister, Yuki-san, a call that evening, which was pretty cool. Yuki’s english isn’t nearly as good as Nami’s (but Yuki-san lives in Japan, and Nami lives in Vancouver, so I suppose that’s quite understandable!). Yuki (from what I could tell on the phone) seems a lot like Nami – in fact her voice pattern was so similar to Nami’s that it was really easy to make the family connection. She was very patient, as I struggled with my Japanese, trying to have a bit of a conversation. I couldn’t really figure out how to end off my call to Yuki gracefully, so I just had to use the “bye bye” technique. Not particularly elegant, but it worked. Yuki-san recognized my name when I mentioned it, so I assumed that Nami must’ve notified (warned her) that I might call.

Yokohama / Tokyo

Decided to grab the train to Tokyo (45 minutes and 350 yen), for an extra day of Tokyo sightseeing – namely the stuff I missed the first time I was in Tokyo when I was really panicked. First off, went on the NHK studio tour. I have to say that I was not very impressed by this. It is conducted exactly like a tour in an amusement park (which I suppose I should’ve expected). In essence, you are toured through a “mock” TV studio, with “actors”, who are “pretending” to be television personnel, doing something for real. Anything that’s really real is behind 2 feet of soundproof glass. I didn’t think very much of this tour, as you can probably gather. The 3-D TV was pretty nice, and the HDTV stuff looked great, but I don’t know if I’d recommend this tour to anyone else. I wanted something with a little more content in it, but perhaps that’s just because I’m in the business.

After the tour, I went to Shakey’s for lunch. I haven’t eaten Shakey’s pizza since I was around 12 years old, living in PG. The pizza was quite interesting – thin, with scanty toppings, but offered some interesting combinations (such as corn, tuna, etc.) Lots of pasta as well. For 600 yen, this all-you-can-eat combo was the best deal I found! After lunch I headed for Shibuya, then looked around all afternoon in Akihabara (planning my battle strategy for the next day).

Clear and Present Danger was on TV (in Japanese), but I was so tired from roaming around the city all day, that I decided to skip it, and went to sleep.

Yokohama / Tokyo

Another rude awakening in Yokohama with the P.A. system. This was only the half of it. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, as some guy in the room was snoring like a chainsaw all night. I tried stuffing tissue in my ears (didn’t work), clamping my head between two pillows (didn’t work), and eventually just pounded the concrete wall with my fist. Eventually he stopped – to be replaced by someone with a nasty cough. I was really ready to kill at this point. If I had’ve had a gun at the time, I’d probably be writing this letter from prison…

This is the one of the only drawbacks to hostelling. I had the same sort of thing happen in the Gifu hostel one night, and I had hoped that would’ve been the last time, however I was not quite so fortunate. Yokohama Youth Hostel takes the cake for being the loudest in the morning (and the night!)

Left the hostel at 9:30 to go and purchase my MiniDisc recorder. Of course, in Japan, most stores open at 10am, however the store you really want to go to will open at 11am, so I had to kill some time. Roamed around the city, and eventually went to a hotel, and used their long-distance card-phone to call Jamie and Christina (friends of mine who work at the same location I do), then to give Neall a call and see what was new in PG (and to confirm that the house hadn’t burnt down or something). I had to grab some more money for the MD recorder, so I went to the same cash machine, and found it out of order (great…), however the Mastercard machine nearby worked, and I grabbed some money there. All told, I was carrying around about 80,000 yen at the time (around $1,100 Cdn).

Bought the MD recorder, then jumped on the train for Akihabara, where I stored my backpack in a locker, then quickly went out and grabbed my Macross Plus, and City Hunter LDs. Found a nice Aiwa Walkman for 8,000 yen, so I bought it. On the way back to the station, I found a Captain Tylor LD for 1,400 yen, so I bought that as well. Laserdiscs are REALLY cheap here, and I could easily spent a few hundred dollars just on LDs quite easily. I checked into a real hotel tonight (the “Shin Nakano Lodge” – cheap, and clean). Got cleaned up, played with my new toys, and watched Robocop 3 on TV (it’s bad in any language).

Tokyo Disneyland

“I’m going to Disneyland”, or rather, went to Disneyland. Cost me 550 yen to get there, and around 5,100 for an all day / all ride pass. Made a beeline for Star Tours, and hit every ride that I was too young for the time I was in California Disneyland before. Tokyo Disneyland is an almost perfect clone of the Californian Disneyland. Luckily I went on a Monday, so it was busy, but not packed. It could’ve been a lot worse. One little girl was crying at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean, and a little boy started crying after Star Tours, but everyone else seemed to have a good time. Started to rain just as I was leaving.

I wanted to arrive at Narita around 11am on Tuesday for my 1:30pm flight. No sense being late. I had a 4 hour layover at each destination, so there was no reason to try and cut the first one close.

Tokyo and back again

Well, this was it. I woke up at 6am, tried (unsuccessfully) to get back to sleep, and eventually packed all of my stuff into the backpack, and checked out of the hotel. Quick train from Shinjuku to Ueno, then the Keiyo line to the airport. I just kind of jumped on the train at the station, pretty confident I knew where I was going. About 45 minutes into the train-ride, I had a sudden bout of anxiety – if the train wasn’t going to the airport, I’d be in deep trouble (I’d miss my plane). But it was going the right way, so I got to the airport, checked in, and found my ticket had been canceled.

You know how airlines say “reconfirm 72 hours before your flight”? They mean it. I didn’t reconfirm, so they canceled my tickets. Fortunately, the flight wasn’t full, so they were able to re-book me, and from there on, it was just a matter of time until I made it back to Vancouver. Met some new people on the flight back, including some students from a Seattle highschool, who were on a trip to Japan with their instructor. The layovers were pretty deadly, but I met people to talk to, and that helped the time to pass quickly.

Dave’s 1994 Japan “Hostel Preference” List (In order of Best to Worst)

  1. Yoyogi Y.H. – Tokyo
  2. Awara Onsen Y.H.
  3. Kyoto Utano Y.H.
  4. Hiroshima Y.H.
  5. Nagasaki Y.H.
  6. Gifu Y.H.
  7. Yokohama Y.H.

Strange Notes From My Trip:

  • Vending machines really DO sell everything over here. There are THOUSANDS of drink vending machines, selling dozens of different drinks (hot and cold). The price is almost a uniform 110 yen. Lots of vending machines for cigarettes, film (for cameras), packs of tissue paper, etc. My award for the strangest vending machine, was one outside a bookstore, holding all “smut” magazines. I guess it’s for people too shy to buy one inside the store.
  • Odd methods of parking cars in Japan. Since space is at a premium, you almost never see car parkades like you’d see in North America. One style of Japanese car-park uses a rotary system, with each car on a platform, working something like a large, thin ferris-wheel. As the owners of the cars return, the attendant “rotates” the correct car back to the lower position for the driver to reclaim. The other main style uses a “cart” system, where each car is put on a sliding “tray”, which an elevator “stores” in the building above. Cool!
  • The reason for electricity being so expensive in Japan probably has something to do with Japan Rail using electricity to drive all of their trains, and from all of the Pachinko places running their neon flashing lights.
  • Japan is a very noisy place. Everything plays music of some sort, or talks to you. I make this point for bank machines. All bank machines will talk to you when you use them. In loud voices. Every time I attempted to use my card in a machine which was not on the network, the bank machine would announce the fact to the world at large, in loud, blaring voices. Needless to say, I tried to avoid bank machines in busy areas.
  • In spite of Japan having a lot of “foreign” influences in their culture, the Japanese are still not very used to seeing foreigners (with the exception of Tokyo). I got a lot of strange looks in my travels. I was something of a celebrity it seems. My 3 weeks of fame?
    Don’t play pachinko and expect to win.
  • Japanese 1-yen coins are as useless in Japan as pennies are here. They’d probably melt down to make pop cans or something though. On second thought, perhaps they’re melting down used pop cans to MAKE 1-yen coins?

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