Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

Return to Oniko Goes To Japan


Saturday August 29th, 1998
I got a breakfast call in my room around eight o'clock, so I headed down to fill up before the long day got started; I also brought down my camera, to get a picture of something I had noticed in the dining room last night. To my surprise, the dining room was packed full of people... where did they all come from? I was shown to an empty spot and, as I ate my meal, I listened to the conversations around me to see what I could understand. It sounded like the majority of the people in the room were co-workers on holiday; they had been at a special event last night, thus the reason I didn't see them.
After everyone had eaten, the whole crowd of them packed off to their rooms to get dressed [they were all wearing the hotel's yukata robes], and I wandered to the end of the room to examine a large plate a bit closer: that's what I wanted to photograph. The plate is about four feet across, and I don't imagine it was ever used to serve up food; it's sheer size is what impressed me, eh? Its blue and white surface illustrated a flock of cranes in a mountainous area remarkably similiar to the area around the hotel itself.
Appetite and curiousity satified, it was time to get going; so I finished packing my bag, paid up my bill, and caught the bus back to Tsuruoka [and then closed my eyes until we were off the roads with the thousand mile drops on the sides]. At Tsuruoka, I walked back to the Shonai Shrine to visit again and then to a CD store to try to find an album I saw on TV last night that I would love to give to my brother [didn't find it]. Then I bought a bag of tasty breads at the bakery in the covered shopping area, picked up some sodas, and returned to the JR train station to start the long ride back.
Luckily, it would be shorter than the ride I took getting to this area because I'm not trying to trace the path of the PBS "Travels" narrator this time, so I can take the most direct route back instead. I planned to trade trains a couple of times until I reached Yamagata City, from which I could take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. My first switch-off was supposed to happen at a place called Sakamachi.
It didn't.
One of the problems with being out in an area that doesn't normally get a lot of foreign travelors is that the signs at the train stations don't often have a Romanji spelling of the place name on them. "Romanji" is the name given to Japanese words that have their sounds spelled out useing Roman characters... and for a non-Japanese speaker it's the difference between a sign that says "SAKAMACHI" and a sign with just a bunch of Chinese and Japanese characters on it. So at Sakamachi, I didn't hear the town's name announced; and by the time I decyphered what I could read on the sign and realized it was my stop, the doors shut and I was on my way to the next town the express train would stop at, Niigata.
As it turned out, this was the faster way home anyway; Niigata is a stop for the Shinkansen, so I was able to get on a Tokyo bound train immediately. I'm not sure why I didn't notice this earlier when I was planning a route; I guess I was concentrating too much on the best way to get to Yamagata City, and not really looking at other possible routes. Now my next stop was to be Ueno ward back in Tokyo, and I got started on this part of the trip a couple of hours earlier than I would have had I followed my original plan. Cool!
The only notable thing about the two hour or so trip was that the train passed through an area I would like to visit again someday; it was a city surrounded by buttes covered with forests. The train didn't stop there, and the only sign I could eyeball as we shot past the station said Echigo-something on it. Now there is no town called "Echigo-something" in this part of Japan, according to my maps... but the Shinkansen does have an Echigo line in the Niigata area on the maps. I'll have to see what towns are along that line later, and try to figure out what the town I passed through was.
In what seemed like no time at all -- I had a good book to read -- the bullet train reached Ueno ward, Tokyo. I switched to the Yamanote JR line, best friend of all tourists in Tokyo, and rode back to what was starting to feel like home... Ikebukuro ward. At the JR Station, I dropped everything but my pilgrim's hat and staff in a coin locker [neither would fit], and set out to find a hotel room to stay at for the next two nights.
Unfortunately both Hotel Theater and Hotel I.B.A. are full up... as are three other local hotels I checked. It's a busy weekend for travelors, apparently. So I had a simple choice; go to a different ward and search for new hotels there or get a very expensive room here at the only hotel that still had room [probably because it's expensive].
I'm tired. I've climbed four mountains, traveled hundreds of miles, and talked Japanese wrongly for a month. In two days I am going to have to be a college student again for the next nine months, while keeping a whole high school's worth of computers up and functioning despite the best efforts of both the students and teachers to destroy them. I did not want to spend my last two days of actual freedom trying to figure out the layout and rules of a new place; I just wanted to be able to do my last minute shopping in a place that I've already got a good feel for. And I certainly did not want to spend the next four hours trying to find a hotel instead of just relaxing in one. So I bit the bullet and I spent too much, all for the sake of laziness.
The expensive hotel in question is the appropriately named Prince Hotel; appropriate because you get treated like second-class royalty. It's not bad service, mind you... but the hotel room is not noticibly different from the rooms I got at either Hotel Theater or Hotel I.B.A.; only the price tag is: here, the room is costing me 17,600yen -- about $150 -- a night, instead of around 8,000yen -- around $65 -- at the other two hotels. And, no... meals are not included. Of course, the location of the hotel may be a big part of the price tag: it is literally attached to the huge Sunshine City shopping mall, which includes not just stores but also a planetarium, a movie theater, and a special events hall and convention center.
Oh, well... having made my choice, I acted on it. I paid for the next two nights with my credit card, then walked back to the JR station and retrieved my stuff from the coin locker it was all in. As I walked back, I stopped at the magical ATM that actually lets me get money from my bank account with my American ATM card; but it wasn't working. I think it's out of money. oy. I hope it's working tomorrow, because I'll need the cash to mail the staff and another box of stuff to the States... the less I'm carrying onto the plane, the happier both me and the other passengers will be.
I grabbed food while I was out, and ate after I got back to the hotel room. I sorted my stuff out to see what should and shouldn't be mailed off. Then after dark, as I am wont to do, I went out for a late night walk in the cool night air.
Surprise, surprise... just across the street from the mall in a direction I've never walked before is a major post office, probably the mail routing center for the ward. I won't have far to walk to mail things tomorrow, eh? Of course, I'll need to get cash first... and if I can get the cash, I have a few other things I would like to buy. On my walk I found a used book store selling a complete set of Akira Toriyama's famous (in Japan) manga called Dr. Slump, the humorous adventures of a robot little girl who is just plain weird. I loved what I read of this series when I encountered it in re-print form back in 1990, and one of the old weekly mangas that I bought in Tsuruoka earlier this week, dated September 1982, included one of the original printings of a Dr. Slump story. Finding that reminded me of just how funny these stories are... and how useful they are for learning certains little things about Japanese culture that even a child should know. Why? "Arare" -- the little girl robot who's the center of the series -- knows nothing about proper Japanese behavior, or even basic rules of daily life and school behavior, so she is constantly being corrected by her friends and guardians... which in turn explains these things to the reader, i.e. young children and ME. Who says comics aren't educational? [UPDATE 2002: for those of you who care, yes, this is the same Akira Toriyama who wrote and drew the Dragonball comic that the Dragonball Z cartoon came from, which is currently popular in its English incarnation in the States. In fact, Dragonball is the series he wrote after he finished his Dr. Slump series.]
After canvassing the book stores for awhile, I swung by Tokyu hands and looked at the comic book and animation equipment section again. I very much want to get back to drawing comics again soon, but likely school will delay this desire yet again. Still, I'm allowed to dream, ain't I? After poking around some, I finally headed back to the hotel to clean up and rest. An old Jackie Chan movie was on -- "Police Story" -- in Chinese with Japanese sub-titles, which was okay; watching Jackie Chan is a bit like watching a kung-fu version of a Charlie Chaplin movie... dialogue is not really necessary to enjoy both the action and sight gags. Jackie Chan has a big fan following here in Japan, probably because his older Chinese language movies are more readily available here. It's a good way to end the day; good night.

On to August 30th, 1998

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