That's not what the Death card means

Cause if your friends don't dance (day 1)
written 2009-06-01 14:50:54

I apologize if this is a bit scattery, but I was a bit corporeally disrupted by the whole readjustment to Eastern Daylight Time. Try to keep up, and if you can't, chalk it up to Magical Realism.

So, a few weeks back, I said to myself, "Self, what's America got to offer that Japan can't offer faster and with more crazy futurism?" Before I could respond with something about the majestic grandeur of the Dakotas or the amazing landscapes of the Southwest, I was already on the R2 train to the airport at 5:45 AM on a Sunday.

It's like this: Hatboro to PHL, PHL to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MSP to Tokyo Narita, Tokyo to Osaka, the JR train (Kansai Int'l Line) to Namba Station in Osaka. The trip there was pretty great. I was nervous about being in a plane for 13 hours (the Minneapolis-Tokyo segment) but that was no sweat. The worst part of this travel was Tokyo. When we landed, we weren't allowed to get off the aircraft until the Japanese Bureau of Health, Welfare, Bureaucrats and Bureaucracy - Needless Activities Division - had reviewed the health questionnaires we all filled out and looked at us with a IR camera designed to find people who had fevers. Swine flu will not find a foothold in the Land of the Rising Red Tape, damn it! By the time I was off the airplane, my connection to Osaka had up and left, and the next flight wouldn't get me to Osaka any sooner than 11:35 PM local time. The Waffle King and his Waffle Fiancee awaited me at the airport, but my phone did not work and the Waffle Phone was temporarily unavailable, so we missed one another for my first night in.

So, there I am, in a strange place, don't speak the language -- though, I tried to learn enough to politely explain that I was a stupid American and regretted my shortcomings -- in a train station fifteen minutes after all the trains stopped running. Using a combination of my awful Japanese ("excuse me, I don't understand Japanese, do you know Tokui (a city block that I misunderstood as a street") and my iPod (thanks Jen!) I was able to get some help from some train station employees. A short taxi (takshi) ride got me to my hotel. Japanese use of space was immediately apparent in my hotel room, which was a rectangular room with two beds, a desk and a small table. The bathroom was of a type that you might find onboard a ship or in a trailer. Yet I am reliably informed that this room was larger than some apartments.

I slept and got up around 6 AM local, which surprised me. I had no jet lag going from EDT to JST. I just got up and went walking. I cased my neighborhood, which was fairly commercial, but still had a lot of space for residences. I was near a fairly major road, which was in turn near a major city street. I was a few blocks from elevated highways in two directions. I was also very close to a number of subway stops.

Osaka is like this all over, it seems. The subway map is more complicated than NYC public transit maps I've seen. Neighborhoods have lines, the city has lines, there are (what looked to me like) privately owned railways that cover various routes alongside one another. It's all city, too -- the heavily populated parts of Japan are just city, through and through. It's not like a northeastern American city with suburbs, areas of greater or lesser development, tall office buildings here and low green neighborhoods there; a 30 minute train ride from Osaka to Kyoto was almost entirely a view of cityscapes. (Naturally, some areas are taller than others, but you'd be hard pressed to find undeveloped country anywhere in the vicinity. Build up when you can't build out.)

I walked like crazy this trip. Even the first day, which was just familiarizing myself with the area, getting some yen from an ATM, and getting food, I may have walked four, maybe six miles. It was great. I did, unfortunately, destroy the pair of dress shoes I brought - next time, I'll find room for a pair of sneakers in my bag. (I only brought one bag. I think that's how one should travel if at all possible.)

Osaka is a cool town. People were friendly and forgiving about my lack of faculty in Nihongo. I got good use out of sumimasen, which can mean "I'm sorry," "excuse me" or "I beg your pardon." It is also suitable for use as "Hey! You there!" particularly if one uses an indignant old man's intonation. Osaka has shrines and parks and old stone markers just hanging around. I like a town like that, where on this block you can have a place selling hot dogs and the next block is the site of a culturally relevant historic event.

I covered a lot of ground the first day, and the Waffle King got in touch and invited me out to dine with his family (also visiting from the States). Sadly, I failed my Wits + International Travel roll, and went to the subway station at Shinseibashi instead of the covered pedestrian way at Shinseibashi. Missed them entirely. After waiting a bit, I went home. Walked both ways, so I ended my evening soaking my feet and polishing off the airplane snacks I hoarded from my trip. Here's my travel tip: if you want to meet up with someone and don't know where you're going, have a phone or some other way of getting in touch with them. It took me another two days before I bought a phone card, because I'm stupid.

More soon.

--2:43 PM, EDT, Philadelphia, PA, they'll call me Freedom

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