7 September, 2005

Just a couple of the typical coffee products found in vending machines and everywhere else.

In the crowded train stations, cops often stand on little pedestals in order to see and be seen.

Always nice to see a familiar face.

Word has it that Excelsior was sued by Starbucks because they looked too similar. The result was a couple of Excelsior's letters turning from green to blue.

Kirin is more than just a beer here. It seems to be a way of life.

Not to be confused with a nonstop bus.

Taxi traffic in Shibuya.

This is a popular Tokyo fast food joint.

And so is this.

Yes, it's true. There is no smoking on the streets but only in specially designated areas.

This is a broken JR ticket machine.

And this is what it looks like when it's working.

A JR train crossing in the middle of the city. Note the arrow telling you which way the train is going. (More useful before the train starts to pass.)

This indicates trains are coming from both directions.

In Shinjuku, a giant clock is displayed on the front of a fast food establishment on a busy corner.

The Keio subway line is run by the Keio department store.

Meanwhile the other subway line in the same station is tied to a different department store. There is no free transfer between the two.

Outside the station, people have late night snacks on the street.

9-11 here means Election Day.

Not sure what exactly it's forbidding but I wouldn't try it.

7 September, 2005

Day 53. We spent most of the day sitting back, settling in, catching up, and doing work. So by the time I actually walked outside it was after dark. It's still a bit stormy as Typhoon Nabi passes to the north. From everything I've heard, this was a storm that was as big as Katrina.

Tomorrow morning it's another early edition of "Off The Hook" which means I won't be able to stay up too late tonight. I can't tell you how pleased I'll be when I won't have to get up in the morning to do radio anymore. It should start getting a lot easier next week although I can't say I know what time zone I'll actually be in when I'm on the freighter.

On the subject of the freighter, I got some cheery news from Stuart, the listener I met here the other day who tells me that in a typical year there are around 150 vessels lost at sea with between 1400 and 2400 estimated deaths in that time period, most going unreported. These statistics supposedly come from the International Transport Workers' Federation. Now I'm not one to be overly concerned about such matters but I do think I may become intensely curious over the next few days prior to my actually getting on board this thing. The original assumption on my part was that there was a pretty good chance the freighter would actually make it all the way across the Pacific Ocean. So if anyone has further info on what I'm actually getting myself into here, please forward that along to the webmaster and it'll hopefully wind up in my hands. Don't worry, I'm not getting cold feet about going over the Pacific. Just looking for the facts.

We made plans to meet Dave's friend Joel in the evening. Joel used to live in New York and had moved out here fairly recently. Oddly enough, Joel not only wanted to meet at Shibuya where I had met Stuart the other night but also picked the exact same spot in front of a bronze statue of a dog. I'm told that's where many people in Tokyo meet for the first time because it's easy to find. Of course, I managed to find another dog sculpture in the vicinity and stood in front of the wrong place for 20 minutes the other night. But that's me.

We found Joel pretty easily and proceeded to walk around the area. I'm starting to have my fill of these big loud city sections where tourists flock. I mean it's cool and all but I do want to see something else in Tokyo. I'm not sure what yet but I know there's got to be much more. But it was fun exploring the area in some more detail.

After getting some food, we went into a Tower Records and discovered what I believe is the only location in Tokyo where they sell 2600. At 100 yen I think it's a bit pricey and by the time we get our cut I'm pretty sure we're losing money. Still, it's cool to see it there. I don't think there's much chance of us getting it into other stores as I'm pretty sure there has to be significant Japanese content. We spent an hour or so checking out various books and things. I wasn't too impressed with their DVD or CD collection. Most of the stuff here I can find at home. Well, not the Japanese material but then since I don't know what that is to start with, it's not too surprising.

We went back out onto the crowded and humid street and milled about for a while looking for interesting pictures to take. It really can be a challenge just walking down the street sometimes as there are all sorts of different ways of doing things here. For one thing you must always try and pass people on the left. I keep reverting back to the way I'm used to doing it which often results in a collision or a little dance. And then you have to watch out for the bicyclists on the sidewalk. If you cross the street of course there are cars to worry about but they almost always yield the second you set foot on the pavement, even if they aren't too happy about it. Overall, it doesn't take a whole lot of time to adjust. But I'm sure I'll have problems readjusting when I get back.

I learned something really interesting from Joel. Apparently the subway lines were started by rival department stores and their main reason for existing was to get people to go to their respective stores. Pretty bizarre, eh? It also could explain why the system doesn't lend itself to transferring between rival companies.

On the subject of the subway or metro or JR trains or whatever the fuck they're called, I'm getting much better at it. I'm still annoyed by stupid little things you shouldn't have to do but the actual train system itself is one of the marvels of mankind. I would like to spend an entire week just exploring it (or them). With an unlimited pass, naturally.

After hanging out with Joel a while, Dave and I headed back towards our hotel. We discovered on the train that we were still hungry so we got off one stop early to find something else and also see a slightly different part of town. We were in a place called Yoyogi which wasn't lit up nearly as much as Shinjuku or Shibuya and that was a nice change. We got some little seaweed snacks at a local convenience store and, as I feared, I became somewhat addicted to them. What that means is I'm going to be going nuts when I get back to New York, just like I was when I got addicted to the Stabburpolse sausage from Norway. There won't be any way to find these things over there and any imitation just won't be the same. I guess I'll just have to keep coming back.

Shortly after getting out of the convenience store I heard a strange sound and realized that we were at a train crossing. It was actually a JR train crossing which to me means that it was the equivalent of a subway train crossing the street even though here a subway would be under the ground at all times. The existence of a crossing in the middle of the city was odd in itself but this one was unbelievable. The gates didn't go back up after the train passed. That was because a second train was coming from a different direction on one of the other tracks. And right after that train passed, a third one went by. And then a fourth! Each of the four tracks had been used in a single lowering of the gate! In all my existence on this planet, I don't think I've ever witnessed such a spectacle. But it gives you an idea of how busy the systems are here.

Another interesting spectacle involved two cops who were searching someone on the street. I guess this guy looked suspicious to them or something. I'm not sure what if any rights the average person has to protect himself against this sort of thing. Anyway, what was unusual about this was that the cop who was searching the guy was taking all of the objects that were being removed from his pockets and placing them in the cop's hat! And after about five minutes of this when it was determined that there was nothing here worth pursuing, all of the stuff was returned and the cop just put his hat back on. I'm not sure if this is the standard search procedure or simply this cop's special style but it was fairly unusual in my opinion.

For some reason on the walk back it got extremely windy for about five minutes. It must have been one of the last gasps of Typhoon Nabi. It's supposed to clear up in the days ahead so maybe I'll actually be getting outside in the daylight hours. I want to visit the electronic district which I hear is pretty cool. I also wouldn't mind seeing some of the residential non-touristy sections. I still don't know if I'll be able to get to a Japanese baseball game or a sumo wrestling match. But whatever we wind up doing, I have no doubt it'll be memorable.