Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 15, 1999
I slept well last night. I also found several books my collection had been missing and that I had been unable to locate in Kyoto.
The plan for today is this: meet a friend at the Tokyo Imperial Gardens before eleven o'clock, then go to Ikebukuro to get cash and shop a little, and finally hop on the Shinkanzen back to Kyoto -- hopefully before three o'clock or so -- and get a room at the Toyoko Inn for my last night in Japan. Tomorrow I have to be at Kansai Airport for check-in at noon... and before that, I'm hoping to mail off the box I've been carrying all weekend.
So I packed up, cleaned up, and left the hotel around nine-twenty, carrying all my stuff. I took the Nishi-Kasai "subway" (it's two stories above the ground) to Otemachi, then walked the long underground pathway from there to Tokyo station.
I was carrying too much, per usual, so my plan was to dump everything in a coin locker and then run off to the gardens unencumbered; this was the station I needed to catch the Shinkanzen train at after I went shopping in Ikebukuro, so my stuff could just stay in the locker while I took care of things in Ikebukuro. Of course, this required a coin locker to be free.
Tokyo station is huge. It has about ten different trains it services, where most stations handle just one or two. It has passages leading to three different subway lines as well. It covers a huge area with multiple floors. I know this. I walked all over it looking for an empty coin locker: I never found one. I finally gave up looking, bought a sturdy bag to make carrying the box easier, I set out to the Imperial Palace Grounds.
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is one about a hundred meters from the station. I visited it last year, after walking around the area in a vain attempt to find a bank that would take my ATM card. After visiting the museum there that displayed many of the Imperial treasures (no photos allowed), I then walked over towards the park and garden area, where I met an older man who was learning English. We spent the day walking around the garden, then visited a large temple in the area and a museum there. He said that he tries to visit the Imperial Palace each year on August 15th; and since I try to be in Japan every year for the month of August, I promised to try to meet him where we ran into each other again this year. Before I left for this trip, I sent him a letter letting him know I intended to be there between ten and eleven in the morning, if he cared to meet me. And that's why I was so determined to finish the Saigoku route in time to be in Tokyo on the 15th.
Of course, last year I approach the Imperial grounds from a direction other than the station... when I got there this time, I realized for the first time just how -incredibly- large the palace grounds are. I found I was in a large open park -- large enough that it had subway stations at both ends. Bikes were being rented out to people who wanted to glide around the grassy areas on the roads and paths, and it looked like they were setting up for a bike race of some sort. People were scattered all over, sitting under trees and on benches. In all the wandering I did last year -- and me and my friend wandered a LOT -- I never even glimpsed this area. I looked for a map.
It showed me one thing; the grounds are huge, and I had no idea where the area I had actually met my friend was on the map. So I had to go back out to the moat, and walk around until I spotted the gate I'd entered from last year. It was hot, I was carrying too much, and I was on a deadline... and here I thought I'd finished the pilgrimage. So I walked past Japanese who wondered if I were crazy, and tourists who -knew- I was. Oy.
I found the gate, and walked through to the ticket office. Entry to this area is free, but they hand out ticket that you return as you leave... this lets them keep track of how many visitors they have at any time. A short distance up the roadway was the museum and, across from it was one of the many places in the palace grounds off limits to the public. It's easy to forget, but the grounds are essentially like the White House in America; visitors are welcome, but people do live there too.
I stopped for a moment at the rest house which was just about 100 feet from where I was too meet my friend; I was sweating like a pig again, and needed to get some fluids into my body. I got an orange juice, and started to drink it... and then saw the time. It was now eleven-fifteen.
I glugged down the juice and walked as fast as I could under the circumstances to the meeting area but, not surprisingly, my friend was not there. I don't know if he ever was; it's possible that he couldn't make it there himself, or had never really intended too. But I did; and it bothers me that I showed up late after all the trouble. But I couldn't really have predicted I'd find no coin lockers; it's certainly the time I wasted in trying to find one, and the time lost in walking with too much stuff that ate up the time. So that was just my bad luck. It happens.
None the less, I waited around about fifteen minutes before I dragged myself back to the station. It was time to take care of the other business for the day. I hopped on the Yamanote line, which runs in a big circle through all the major wards in Tokyo, and went to my favorite place -- Ikebukuro. Here, I went to the coin lockers I knew and found plenty empty, so I dropped off my baggage here before going about my business.
There are two reasons I like Ikebukuro. First, it has the only ATM in Japan that I know of that will give me an account balance and cash from my Washington Mutual account in America; this was my first stop today. I have only about $100 on me from my Citibank account, which is basically tapped out now; I was able to pull an additional $230 from my Washington Mutual account, which basically taps it out. But this gives me just enough for what's left to do... one night's stay at a hotel, shopping for books I need, food, mailing a box, and presents to take home.
Having done that, I proceeded to the second reason I like Ikebukuro; tons of used books stores, as well a comic specialty shops with very rare independent books, and a couple of used game/music CD stores. I spent a leisurely afternoon shopping, eating my lunch at Burger King, and found lots of little things I wanted but couldn't locate in Kyoto.

Sideline: Burgers in Japan
Let me mention right now that the burgers at fast food places in Japan -- Mosburger, Lotteria, as well as old American favorites like Burger King and McDonalds -- is much better than fast food in the states for one simple reason: amazing though it may sound, the restaurants go out of their way to be sure that when you get a sandwich or burger, it looks like the one pictured on the menu! No squashed burgers here!

It was about three when I finished shopping, so I returned to the station, retrieved my bags, and got back on the Yamanote line to Tokyo station, where I caught the Shinkanzen back to Kyoto. It was a quiet, uneventful ride... I did a lot of reading. When I arrived back in Kyoto, I checked the area map at the station to see where the best post office to visit would be for tomorrow morning (I'd like to mail off two boxes if I can do it), then rode the subways back to the Toyoko Inn, and got one last night there. It was just after seven, so I dropped off my bags, and went to a toy store and two used books stores to pick up one or two more items I wanted. Then I settled in with a good dinner I purchased nearby, soaked in the tub, and typed this. Tomorrow, I want to send off a box of stuff; if I can afford it, I might send two. Then it'll be time to head to the airport for my check-in time at noon. Night.

Onwards to August 16, 1999

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