Saturday, August 05, 2006

There was also a travel agency called 'Gulliver's Travels'

Everyone loves lists, right? I do, at least. This may or may not have to do with the fact that it's easy to toss a lists post together carefully craft a thought-out post of lists the morning before you go on vacation... (Expect another post Sunday or Monday, by the way. Really, this time. Probably even about Japan.)

Top 5 Things I Didn't Get To Do In Japan:

5) Go to the John Lennon Museum.
I like the Beatles like everybody else on Earth, but I was never really a big fan of John Lennon. Still, I would have liked to tour this pretty comprehensive collection of Lennonalia, cheaply priced and only about an hour from Tokyo by train. I mean, right now, they're exhibiting every single page of John Lennon's primary school notebooks. You can't tell me that's cool in a very weird sort of way.

4) Tour Ueno.
The home of several prominent museums, temples, and a very large park, Ueno has plenty of exciting things to do while being more subdued than, say, Shinjuku. I only went here once to eat shabu-shabu with my class, which was across the street from the station and therefore didn't count.

3) Return to a Chiba Lotte Marines game.
My first Japanese baseball game was enthralling, despite the fact that the home team lost 8-2. I really wanted to make it to another Marines game, or even see another local team like the Yakult Swallows, but fate and scheduling stood in my way. (Other "wish I could've gone there again" places: Ginza, Odaiba, Shibuya.)

2) Try out an onsen.
Yes, I somehow made it six weeks without entering one of the steaming-hot public baths that Japan, and particularly Tokyo, are renowned for. The ryokan we went to had very warm, very public baths, but they just weren't the same.

1) Climb Mt. Fuji.
Oh, man, I'm still kicking myself over this one. Fuji-sama is a respectable 12,388 feet tall, but can be climbed--and is climbed--by a respectably broad cross-section of the Japanese public. The chic thing to do is arrive in the early evening, climb all night, watch the sunrise in the morning, and then head back down. The problem with this scenario is that it requires both a free evening and a free morning. Honestly, I couldn't find a single time outside of exams where our class had such a time period open. Next time, next time...

Top 5 Engrish Expressions Sighted:

["Girl friends are fun / Boy friends are funner" and "White Trash Charms" would both definitely make this list, but what's the fun in using them again?]

On the back of a Betty Boop T-shirt:

4): Not really Engrish per se, but close: Midwestern college apparel. In my six weeks, I noticed Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado State, and dog knows how many other universities on t-shirts, bags, and anything else wearable. Could these dozens of people really all just be graduates of a select few universities? Tell that to the 60-year-old I saw wearing the Central Carolina hat. (And I bet you didn't even know Central Carolina exists.)

(Click to see full-size.)

On the back of a T-shirt in Ueno Station, as follows:


Top 5 Songs Listened To While On The Trip: (a completely unscientific evaluation)

5) Barenaked Ladies- Do They Know It's Christmas?
Apparently I'm one of only two people in my group of 16 who would recognize this song if you sang the opening lines and chorus. (Incidentally, Alison, you rock.) What a fickle goddess pop music is. Incidentally, does anyone know where I can find Band Aid's original recording?

4) Super Mario World- Ending Theme (Fast)
Hey, I never said there was a reasoning behind the music I played.

3) Tim Wilson- The Ballad of John Rocker
Something about Tokyo brought the Southern music out from the dark, ergonomically rounded corners of my iPod. Tim Wilson got the best of this, but I also got back into Robert Earl Keen and Willie Nelson thanks to this trip. I also probably became the first person to ever listen to Jeff Foxworthy's "12 Redneck Days of Christmas" on a Tokyo-bound JR train. Why am I writing this list again?

2) Mitch Hedberg- Three Easy Payments
That's right: so I can go on about how I listened to every Mitch Hedberg recording I owned at least three times while I was in Japan. It's really, really, trite, but you know how sometimes you have a day where you almost miss the train, botch every new vocabulary word in class, forget to write down the homework and lose your seat on the ride home to two middle-schoolers? When everyone you know back home is somewhere in the middle of their third REM cycle, sometimes the best thing to do is just sit back and let yourself life. "This payment must be made in wampum!"

1) Harvey Danger- Problems and Bigger Ones
Not really a depressing song, but it did superficially capture the state of constant chaos I found myself in for about a month and fourteen days. By and away my most-played song.

Top 5 Worst Train Stations In Greater Tokyo:

5) Akihabara
Not exactly anything to write home about (which, technically, I'm not doing), but much too small for a station with its traffic. To make it worse, the JR tracks are more or less stacked on top of each other, making a multilevel mess that clogs stairs and elevators constantly. And good luck finding the Metro station or the pricey Tsukuba Express.

4) Tokyo
Makes the list for a purely selfish reason. To get from Makuhari, Chiba City, or anywhere nearby to central Tokyo, you're going to be taking the Keiyo Line into Tokyo Station and moving from there. Unfortunately, the Keiyo line is one of JR's newest, meaning you'll have to go up no less than four sets of thirty-foot-tall escalators, and then a few football fields of moving sidewalks, just to get to the outskirts of Tokyo Station from the Keiyo Line stop. Then you can start walking the ten minutes or so to your connecting line. Not the prettiest station you'll ever see, either.

3) Kita-Kamakura
Too small, too crowded, too antiquated considering it's the main stop for Kamakura's popular Engakuji Temple. This is the train station you saw where I had to walk across the train tracks to get from one side of the station to the other.

2) Asakusa
The problem with Asakusa is that it's the only station I went to, of the 30+ I saw in my six weeks, where you could only get directions to one company's line within the station of another company's line. This means that if, say, you want to go to Kita-Senji, you essentially have to buy a minimum-fare ticket to the Tokyo Metro, use it to walk to the Toei subway line, and buy another ticket there. If there was an easier way of doing this, I never figured out how.

1) Ueno
A no-brainer #1. One person in our group got lost in Ueno Station for thirty minutes, and I can certainly understand why. Signs point in different directions five feet away from each other, and other signs seem to just stop directing you where to go. This is assuming you can see them when you're walking into one of the myriad five-foot corridors, of course. The layout of the station is completely unfathomable, with two different exits for the same platform leading to insane places, sometimes through--yes, directly through, as in 'dig a hole and put stairs in it' through--other platforms. Finally, Ueno Station is the final stop on the Joban line, meaning people coming from Kashiwa and Abiko are going to pretty much be walking through it every single day.

And there's a Hard Rock.


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