Turning Japanese Again, Shinkansen to Tokyo

More tofu for breakfast. Blech. Well, not so much blech as bland and really not what I’d like to eat first thing in the morning. Jen didn’t eat much.

Today we’re back to Tokyo (and Yotsukaido). But first, we wanted to do a little touring around. And I do mean “little”. Specifically, two stops up the Karasuma line to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I really wanted to see what it’s like in there.

But first, we had to pack up and check out. Which wasn’t easy — we’d spread ourselves all over the room. Although it didn’t take me long to pack, Jen had to take a bit longer out of necessity. It’s safe to say that, either way, both of us officially have too much stuff.

I had some troubles at the front desk trying to pay for the bill. It came to about 85,000 yen for the four days (about CDN$1,000).

Yes, this is what people refer to when they say that Japan is expensive. Last time, I hadn’t noticed this because I’d stayed with Chris. Now I know better.

For whatever reason, my Mastercard wasn’t accepted. Neither was my VISA. Not by the hotel — by their system. Quite odd, and highly annoying. So it had to be cash, and I needed a post office for that. First, though, Jen and I brought our bags down to put into storage.

Luckily, there’s a post office about a block and a half from the hotel, and unlike Canada’s post offices, was open on a weekend. But my financial woes didn’t end — for whatever reason, I couldn’t withdraw more than 60,000 yen, barely covering our hotel cost with the money I already had. I think I have only about 10,000 yen to get me through the weekend. I hope I make it.

This prompted a long series of emails to and from North America (over the keitai), specifically to my sister, to try and figure out what happened to my bank account. My paycheque should have gone through two days ago (even with the time change). Thankfully, my money is still there, I just can’t get to it for some reason.

We got to the Imperial Palace and walked over to the Household Agency, which governs the operation of the Palaces and grants the tours.

On weekdays. We’d forgotten that it’s Saturday. I knew there was a reason I’d wanted to go to Osaka today and not yesterday.

After taking a bit of a leisurely tour through the palace grounds, we returned to the hotel to collect our things and head off to the shinkansen. The 12:37 Hikaru would put us in Tokyo a little after 15:00, and have us at Chris’ door by 16:30 or so. (As it stands, we arrived at 17:00.)

Nearing Kyoto Station, the unmisstakable sound of women running in high heels echoed through the tiled hallways. (In the hotel room, women running down the road in high heels always seemed to sound like horses clip-clopping.) Women always seem to be running in heels here. If there was an Olympic event for running in high heels, Japan would capture the gold every time.

The train ride out was mostly uneventful, Jen and I snoozing most of the trip from Kyoto to Tokyo. Arriving at Tokyo, we found our way down to Sobu underground track #4, where we waited for the 15:50 to Chiba. For the first time since I started taking trains in Japan, one was actually late.

By five whole minutes.

Chris and Kaz were kept appraised of our location at all times. Chris was off to work again, so Kaz would pick us up at the train station. How did I know all this? The rented cell phone, of course. Today, if anything, has proven why renting a cell phone in Japan is a good thing — being able to confirm a bank account balance or make sure you meet up with friends is not only extremely handy, but really cuts some of the guess work out of things. So if you’re planning to come to Japan and know people here, really consider renting a phone. It’s almost too convenient not to have one.

Arriving at Yotsukaido, Kaz directed us to the taxi. I didn’t think Chris’ apartment was so far away that we needed a taxi, but after a long trip, taking a ride seemed far more pleasant. As we would find out, however, we were not going to Chris’ apartment. Suddenly, the slightly garbled phone conversation I’d had with Chris made sense. We were going to Kaz’s (and now also Chris’) new apartment.

It you get off on the taxi/bus side of the station, and go down the road that runs perpendicular to the station for about three kilometres, hang a left at the Eneos station, and go up about a block, you’ve found their place. It’s not as convenient as Chris’ old apartment, but it is really nice. Brand-new (it was finished only days before we left Canada) and full of gadgets (the hot water for the bath/shower is turned on from the kitchen/living space, all electronic, and actually says something — in Japanese, of course). It’s pretty sweet.

It’s a bus ride from the station, or taxi, or a long walk. So we won’t be hoofing it all that often, especially after a long day. No big deal, especially for such a nice place … even if it is going to be a bit cramped for the next couple of days. (Tony’s here tonight, and probably tomorrow night, too.)

Kaz and I took the bus back to the station after dumping our things out (Jen stayed behind to read and draw), and then walked to the local Home Depot-like store. They’d purchased a gas range so they could cook, but had to pick it up. Although a fairly light piece of equipment, it’s just awkward enough that you needed to borrow a truck to take it home. We took the opportunity to pick up a few things from the apartment.

Like the heater…

… the TV …

… the VCR, DVD player, Playstation, movies, books, CDs, CD burner, a small cabinet, boxes of who-knows-what, and anything else we could pack in the back of the truck.

I should point out that this is a Japanese truck. One that could fit in the bed of most large American pick-up trucks. So there wasn’t that much room for us to store stuff. Not that it was a big deal of any kind. It was weird to sit in because it was so small. You literally felt like the steel of the cab wrapped right around you to conserve space.

Chris arrived just as we were finishing up, and we quickly packed the remainder. Kaz and I drove over in the truck while Chris biked. Due to rush hour traffic, Chris arrived before we did. A quick unpacking, and Chris and Kaz whipped off to take the truck back before they’d run out of time.

Jen and I waited around, either drawing (in Jen’s case) or writing (in mine). It took a while, but they eventually returned to the apartment. They ran into Jen on her way back from coffee run (now that we’re in the Tokyo area, we’re actually able to find Georgia Max coffee again — the southern part of Japan seems to be devoid of it).

With that, we were off to dinner at a nearby restaurant. We went for something called okonomiyaki, which is basically food that comes in a bowl, is mixed together, then cooked on a grill that’s built into the table. It’s sort of like a Japanese omelette or fritatta. It’s very tasty. We also had some grilled beef and pork, along with noodle and gyoza.

Tony (yep, the Monkey Man) finally appeared around 22:00, after repeated attempts to try and get a hold of him. The five of us sat around, ate a little, before heading back to Kaz and Chris’ apartment. We stopped first into a 24-hour drug/grocery store to pick up snacks and various things for around the house (they’re still moving in, so don’t have a lot of things). Jen bought three more Georgia Max coffees, and had downed two of them before we’d walked the block and a half to the apartment. She was still wired when we went to bed three hours later.

Upon returning was the Great Soul Calibur II Matchup. Chris and Jen had been talking about this for a long time. Chris is very good at this game, as is Jen. Chris has a sort of “home field” advantage because this is a Playstation 2, whereas Jen plays on a GameCube. Doesn’t sound like it should matter, but it does. Jen won only a single game. Chris thoroughly trashed her in all the others. I just looked over at Jen, smiled, and said:

“Now you know how I feel when I play you.”

We called an end to Jen’s repeated “just one more!” requests, turning to the movie “Zatoichi”, a Japanese film about a blind master samurai and how he changes the lives of others. It’s a fairly violent film, but intermixed with comedy and some rather good rhythm (Stomp-like performances appear at various points in the movie). The ending’s a little disjointed, in my opinion, but it’s still a good film.

And with that, we went to bed. Tomorrow is light: sleeping in, laundry, and the Fourth Party for Chris and Kaz.