Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

Return to Oniko Goes To Japan


Tuesday August 11th, 1998
On today's schedule was but one major objective: arrange for a hotel room closer to the Comic Market comic convention this coming weekend. This meant I needed to travel to a part of Tokyo I've never been to before and find a good hotel with a room open for the weekend... so another interesting [and stressful] day.
First things first, though. After I got up and out -- around nine -- I headed to the JR station where the travel agency I needed to get my JR Railpass at was located. The agency wasn't due to open until ten, but that was okay; I needed breakfast first anyway. I walked around in the lower part of the station itself -- many train stations in Tokyo have underground shopping malls -- and, after looking at a variety of small restaurants, all catering to the crowds pressing through the station on their way to work and school, I picked up a bowl of kitsune udon at a noodle place [Udon are thick noodles]. It's called "kitsune" udon -- "fox" udon -- because the soup is topped with two big triangles of fried tofu that resemble the ears of a fox... and it's good eats, I tell you! Of course, it was also the only thing on the menu with no Chinese characters in the name, so I could identify it without a dictionary [not that that effected my choice, of course!].
Anyway, after I ate and after ten, I headed back to the "Biyuu" Plaza travel agency ["Biyuu" is about as close to the English word "view" as you can get using Japanese sounds], located just outside one of the Northeast exits of the station. They were already busy helping people plan trips, so I took a number and looked at the various brochures available as I waited for my turn. I grabbed a couple of brochures for Yamagata prefecture: that's where I hope to head later in this trip. I also noticed that there were a large number of brochures for Hawaii... I guess it's as popular a place to go for Japanese as for Americans. [UPDATE 2002: The things you learn in school... Hawaii has had a large population of Japanese immigrants for at least fifty years, so visitors from Japan encounter a culture that is almost the same as home; no wonder Hawaii is a popular place to visit, eh?]
My number came up, and I walked over. The clerk took a look at me... and then looked for someone else to deal with me. He had assumed he needed someone who could speak English before asking, so I had to wait a minute or so as they rounded up their resident English speaker to handle me. As it turned out, it was no big deal. I gave the young woman they had parked in front of me my passport and the railpass receipt I had gotten from my travel agency in the States, and all she really needed to say to me was "prease sign here" [English L's and R's are notoriously difficult for native Japanese speakers to master]. After about ten minutes of them confirming the receipt was valid, I was handed my JR Railpass. From here on out, I travel free on any Japan Railways line in the country, which should save ready cash... their rail lines are just about everywhere. This will be useful later this month when I leave Tokyo for parts unknown, but it was also useful today... I was now able to travel to Nishikasai ward for free.
Or so I thought. I was able to travel free as far as the Tokyo ward JR station, but from there I had to take a subway to Nishikasai... and the subway was not a JR owned subway, so I had to pony up 190yen for the trip. Oh well; it's better than 600yen, which the whole trip could have cost me.
The subway station was located about two stories under the ground level of Tokyo ward, but the city is so hilly that the line was soon two stories above the ground as it shot towards Nishikasai. The trip felt oddly familiar, though I can't put my finger on the reason why. When the line crossed over a tremendous river flowing out into Tokyo Bay, and I knew I had seen the view before... but when?
Just two stations or so past the river, I was at Nishikasai's "subway" station. Down two floors and out into the ward itself, I found that Nishikasai felt a lot less congested than Ikebukuro. I think the buildings are less tall and the roads a bit wider... it sure felt like there was just more sky visible, whether or not that was true. I looked over the semi-circle of steets and buildings visible from the station's entrance, made note of two signs with the word "hoteru" -- 'hotel' -- and headed off to check them out.
I got lucky on my first try. About three blocks from the station (and near two used books stores) I found a hotel called the 'Toyoko Inn', which is apparently one of a chain of hotels by the same name in Japan. Its prices were right -- cheaper than any hotel I've seen in Ikebukuro -- and they had a room open for the coming weekend. It took some explaining [I'd forgotten how to say "fourteenth" in Japanese, so had to resort to an actual calendar], but I arranged for a room there through the coming weekend, plus one day more. I'm thinking that after I recover from the convention, it will be time to really push myself... time to go to Yamagata prefecture and do the exploring there that I've been thinking about.
In any case, it was only around one o'clock and I had already accomplished the task I thought would take me the whole day. So, as long as I was in Nishikasi and had some time, I explored a little... mainly looking for lunch at first. And, because I'm me, I wasted a half-hour or so in a used bookstore near the hotel before picking up food at a convenience store. I then walked back to the station to look at what stores and stuff were right around it.
I saw a couple of things I wanted to take a closer look at. On the front of a nearby building was a sign for a "comic cafe" called Mag Time on the 7th floor, and I wanted to see if it was what I suspected. It was... another "manga restaurant" like the Dream Cafe in Ikebukuro, and just a couple of blocks from the hotel I'll be staying at. Have I mentioned that I love this country? [UPDATE 2001: I haven't seen them anywhere else, but these 'manga restaurants' appear to very common in Tokyo; now that I know they exist, I've been spotting them all over the place.]

Give me your Brains, BRAINS...
they're finger lickin' good!
The second thing I wanted to check out was another restaurant, this time at ground level; one you may know. Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of the first American fast food chains to sucessfully market itself in Japan; a KFC can be found in almost every ward of Tokyo. But why my interest in it, especially since I'd just eaten? Well... it wasn't the restaurant itself I was interested in; it was what they've become famous for that I was looking at. In front of every Japanese KFC -- right from the first one ever founded, to the newest one opened -- is a bonified and life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders himself, greeting each visitor to the chain. I don't know whose idea these were, but they're creepy. I'd love to take one home! ...but a picture will have to do, eh?
I wanted to look around Nishikasai more, but I'll have plenty of time to do that after I shift to the hotel in this ward; for this afternoon, I had a different job to take care of. I caught the 'subway' back to Tokyo ward, and the train back to Ikebukuro; by the time I made it back to the hotel -- after picking up some snacks -- it was just past four.
I sat down with the TV turned to a news program, and pulled out my laptop to clean up my first draft of this webpage and to really try to figure out how to get my laptop connected to the Internet from Japan. I figured out how to get my computer to dial out to my American ISP, but I couldn't do it from my hotel room... they block long distance calls. A second try a little later from the public phone in the lobby confirmed the good news; I can do it. The bad news, however, is it'll cost me an arm and a leg to do it, so I ain't doing it often. Still, it'd be so useful to check my email while traveling; there has to be a good way to pull it off.
Anyway, after that I took it easy... I walked over to Dream Cafe and got a mini-pizza and melon soda [a personal favorite not generally available in the US], and nibbled away while reading their copies of 3x3 Eyes [a Japanese comic that's another personal favorite of mine]... which reminds me of another boring thing I have to research: the recurring theme of three-eyed people in Japanese comic books and its relationship to Chinese Buddhist legends [well, at least I think it would be interesting!].
Afterwards, I wandered through book stores for a couple of hours as I made my way slowly back to the hotel. I picked up a few different things that looked fun or interesting -- most notably, a copy of the manga version of the American TV series X-Files, featuring adaptions of the American storylines done by Japanese artists.
Back here at the hotel, I sat down to whip this webpage into some sort of recognizable shape; I'm hoping to be able to post this by the thirteenth, since my parents should be returning home from their trip on the twelfth and I'd like them to see how I'm doing. But I've done all I can for now... 'night!

On to August 12th, 1998

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