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A month ago when I returned from Japan I promised to write a tale of my trip. And so far I have shirked that promise. Not because I've been meaning to, just... I had no reason at the time, I just didn't feel like writing, the spirit didn't move in me. Looking back on that month now, I suppose I just wasn't ready. Wasn't ready to put those two weeks behind me, wasn't ready to let go so soon. Not that my time there will ever really be behind me, but I think, now, that I've taken enough time to make it a part of me, a part of my history, and distance enough to finally let go.

I'm sitting now in the Fireside Lodge, a city night to finish a lazy end of summer day, in just under an hour a jazz band is coming in to play. But when I first drafted this letter—the rest of it—I was sitting in the Red+Black Cafe, a wednesday morning— before 11:00 if you'd believe it. I'd just biked down for an early morning drink/exercise and hammered it all out on Elsamelys, my new zaurus I picked up in 秋葉原 (Akihabara, Tôkyô) on the second pass since I never managed to find the one I wanted in でんでんタウン (DenDen Town, Ôsaka). While there, other than coffee, I had the "free greek"— a bagel with cucumbers, feta, hummous, and kalamatha olive spread— and by the gods it was good. I'll have to remember to get it again sometime.

Even then in the R+B I was sort of reluctant to start writing a recollection of my trip. I wished I could say it was out of "not wanting it to end", but—to be honest—that's not true. At the time I couldn't entirely say why it was that I'd been putting it off. I had some ideas and—to be fair—part of it was not wanting it to end. But part of it was something else, and part of it—I realized the night before—was that I've rediscovered that I really do prefer writing by hand than typing. It took me a long time to switch over to typing things, influenced largely by having gone to college where hand-writing essays is absolutely not an option.

When I was in Japan I kept my tale in my journal: 42 pages all together. I'm not going to type them all out here. That wasn't the point of keeping it, and much of it has more personal significance than it would have to you. No, but there are portions I feel I should share. Even editing, the tale is quite long, so I'll be breaking it up into sections. I'll be writing place names in their Japanese, glossing them as they're first introduced. If/when I get around to it, all references will be linked to a translation index, possibly with some basic maps of Japan to show where they are.


On my trip I stuck mainly to my itinerary. Wednesday night I arrived in 東京 (Tôkyô), where the first (and most notable) tragedy of my trip struck. Turns out I misscheduled my hostel stay by a month, and after the hour or two of wandering to find the place, they were full and it was nearly curfew for any other hostels which may have room; but most of them were full too. I'd booked a month early rather than late, so I couldn't even get my money back. The exceptionally helpful girl behind the counter managed to locate a place for me that had openings for the whole of my 東京 stay. I had about half an hour to get there, the trip—as I was to find out—was an hour by train.

So, with no place to stay, in the darkening night where there's plenty of nightlife, but all the daylife had closed, I did the only thing I could think of: try to find a place to camp on the street for the night. Luckily, this is something I've done many a time in Portland and a time or two in DC. So, with what I would come to believe is a formidable city sense, I made my way to 上野公園 (Ueno Park), figuring I could find some place in the shadows to sleep where I wouldn't be harassed by cops— not that I have anything against the Tôkyô PD, the cops in Japan are all exceptionally helpful and nice; no, but speaking with law officials of any stripe when you can't communicate freely is never a good thing.

When I got to the park I noticed there were plenty of other people already sleeping there, so I merely plopped down and spent the night worrying more about mosquitos than theft. Only come the morning (dawn is at 04:00 in Japan) did I remember an amusing quirk of 東京 culture. 東京 is inconceivably large. As Everything2 says calling 東京 a "city" is like calling the universe "big" or the sun "hot"; Sure, it's /true/, but it just gives no /idea/ of the sheer scale of it all. Home to 34 million souls[1]—that's around one and a half times the population of the continent of Australia, or 3/26ths (~1/9th) of the population of the United States—and in an area of 3,000 square kilometers—compared to the DC's 18,000km^2 or Portland's 13,000km^2 with their populations of 5 and 2 million respectively[2]. And with all that space, all those people, and all that concrete, sometimes you just want to escape it all, sometimes you want to go... camping. So you get yourself up, ready to brave the bold wilderness, and take a train to the Imperial park, or Ueno, or Yoyogi and you experience the brute force of the wild. 上野公園 begins right outside 上野駅 (Ueno station), but the good camping spots are some hundred meters or so away. Some people even bring tents and set them up (on the sidewalks, natch; out of the way, equally naturally), but most just get an old cardboard box to lay on. Even the local equivalent of the Boy Scouts comes camping here.

The rest of my nights in 東京 I spent in 横浜 (Yokohama), a southern suburb of 東京, though still close enough to be city. On the path from the 桜木町 (sakuragi-chô) station to the 神奈川 (Kanagawa) Youth Hostel there's a covered sidewalk covered in graffiti. The pillars are layers upon layers of "graffiti" graffiti, the walls covered in the commissioned-artwork variety. On the last pillar, in countless languages slowly fading away to time, is written a message so endigmatic of Japan: May peace prevail on earth.

[1] That's 34 million for the whole metropolitan area, the official city alone is a mere 12.2 million.

[2] Again, those are for the metropolitan regions. The cities alone are 178km^2 for DC and 322km^2 for Portland with half a million people each.

June 2017

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