Japan, Random Rambles
Comments 18

Haunted Tokyo

This afternoon I collapse onto another plane to begin my Chuseok holiday; a mercifully brief two hours later I’ll be landing at Narita for three days and four nights in Tokyo.

I can’t wait.

Tokyo and I share some history. Not all of it is the happy kind of history, and indeed when I left the first time, in early 2003, I was so burned out from three years of conversation-school teaching, ill-judged relationships with a few local ladies (not at the same time), and the general mental wear and tear of Tokyo life that I swore I’d never be back.

I went back the first time in 2006, en route to Pennsylvania and my second shot at the Appalachian Trail (the most interesting distance between two points is  a crooked line), checking whether it was worth persevering with a long-distance relationship with another woman, this one just north of Tokyo. It wasn’t. That was the dumbest thing I did that year, and I left Japan single and grateful for it — but I did fit in a lot of hiking. I was done with the place and it was done with me.

I was back again in late 2007 with my friend Chris

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On a training hike, Okutama

..to attempt one of those lunatic capers one sometimes conjures up with a like-minded dreamer after five too many post-work drinks.

We would walk the length of the whole (very long) country from opposite ends, meeting and passing in the middle. We worked a few months at universities around Tokyo (a lot less prestigious than that sounds), other teaching gigs and even a day as extras on a Japanese TV drama. Saved and planned. Did training hikes:

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Kawanoriyama, Winter, hiking with Chris

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Rest stop on another walk

Chris went south, I headed for Hokkaido.

Long-term readers know how that worked, or half-worked. I retired early, injured, all dreamed out, dumped by another embittered local when I most needed her help. Chris got the glory, in time; I got the plane home. I was well rid of the woman and the whole place. Never again.

Well, what can I say? Japan gets under your skin. Despite the suffering and disappointments, I owe Tokyo a lot: it’s where I got hooked on mountains and hiking, where I learned to like my own company, to think of walking as a form of self-expression to which I’d devote my life:

Seam-sealing a new tent in a 4-mat apartment -- this is the WHOLE apartment

Seam-sealing a new tent in a 4-mat apartment — this is the WHOLE apartment! (Note the A4 enlargements on the wall — I’d get one free one with every roll of film developed.)

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Somewhere in Okutama

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With friend Shawn near Takao-San

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With Andrew & Shawn, climbing Kumotoriyama, highest peak in Tokyo

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Mt Mitsumine, hiking with a badly injured back

Azaleas on a foggy mountain-top in the Tanzawa region

Azaleas on a foggy mountain-top in the Tanzawa region

In time I got braver & pushed further & higher, always alone

In time I got braver & pushed further & higher, always alone

I think of the city a lot, and I daydream often about the mountains squeezed up against and into its vast and overcrowded concrete labyrinths.

Apart from the nostalgia trip/masochism, my other goal is to get some decent pictures of some of my favourite haunts. I was just starting to dabble in photography back then, and the pictures I have of that formative time just aren’t up to scratch (most of the ones shown here are scanned film). And I have almost no pictures of urban Tokyo. I hope to spend two days in the mountains (still in or near Tokyo Prefecture) and one jamming as much downtown action in as I can manage before I crack.

So anyway. Three days ain’t nearly enough. I’m not much of a one for detailed itineraries, ordinarily, but I have so much ground to cover, and the place is so damned big, that I’ve mapped this one out pretty tightly.

Thought you’d enjoy a look at my plan. Devising it nearly killed me:

WEDNESDAY

  • Arrive Narita early evening.
  • Train into downtown Ikebukuro; another to the bedroom community of Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
  • Meet Andrew, friend & colleague from way back then. Drinks in an izakaya (pub-restaurant). Night at his place in Tokorozawa. Tokorozawa is also where our old school was, before the chain went bankrupt. I want to find the site so I can dance on its grave.

THURSDAY

  • Up early. Chuo Line train inbound to Kichijoji and one of the best parks in Tokyo, Inokashira:
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Temple, Inokashira Park, Kichijoji, 2008

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Inokashira Pond

Major hangout with old friend Shawn the first time, Chris years later (we lived nearby, house-sitting & then in a rooming house before our big walk). Walk round the pond, enjoy dozens of melancholy flashbacks beneath the towering cherry trees, have a green-tea ice-cream, maybe a coffee at the nearby Starbucks and perhaps even guzzle from a can of Asahi while strolling. Just like old times.

  • Train further downtown to Iidabashi & the historic Chinese-style gardens of Koishikawa Korakuen.
  • Trains back to world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku, aka Crazytown. Spend much of the day in the area, including…
  • Revisiting my favourite outdoor stores (if they’re still there).
  • Kinokuniya Bookstore with its amazing selection of English books & magazines.
  • Perhaps Yoyogi Park.
  • In a perfect world, a dragonfly tattoo at Harajuku…but time and money are short.
  • Magnificent Shinjuku Gyoen, vast and beautiful downtown gardens, another favourite haunt.
  • Through the tunnel to the west side of Shinjuku, stopping for tempura at a Tenya store I remember.
  • Up to the observation decks in the Astroboy-esque Tocho (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building) for staggering views of Tokyo at dusk.
  • Do the train thing back into Saitama, hopefully more excellent Japanese beer. Night at Andrew and family’s.

FRIDAY

  • Up early. Chuo train west to Takao; Keio Line a few stops to Takao-San-guchi, end of the line.
  • Hike up Takao-San, the small, steep, sacred & heavily wooded mountain I climbed many, many times all those years back and on each subsequent visit:
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Tengu (mountain goblins – here seen on Takao-San) take either this form…

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..or this one, spotted descending a mountain near Takao-San

  • Ideally extend the hike to Mitake-San, another old fave.
  • Descend. Cross the tracks & start climbing if I’m not tired, or otherwise get a train further into mountainous Okutama.
  • Climb Kawanori-Yama, the mountain where I once camped, experienced an epiphany & decided in a moment of disturbing clarity to be a mountain bum my whole life:
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Final ridge approach to Kawanoriyama

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Kawanoriyama snow, 2008

  • Camp on the top for old time’s sake, hopefully enjoy more Fuji-San views and some clear starry skies. Weather report at present (jinx alert!) says CLEAR!

SATURDAY

  • Up early, Ome Line train(s) back to Tachikawa, change to Chuo Line, more trains south-west to Mitsu-Toge.
  • Hike 8.4 miles to Kawaguchi-ko, in the shadow of Mt Fuji. Enjoy reputedly amazing views of the 3,776m symbol of Japan I climbed with Andrew — from the bottom — over 21 agonising hours back in (I think) 2001:
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One of only a handful of shots I have of the Fuji-San hike — this is at the bottom before the climb

Hopefully get some good shots. I only have a handful — she’s notoriously shy — of faded, grainy images:

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Fuji-San from the Izu Peninsula

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From somewhere in Okutama

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On a solo multi-day walk down the Izu Peninsula

  • Night in a Shinjuku capsule hotel, cheapest digs in town. Hot communal bath, perhaps even blog from within a wifi-equipped fibreglass coffin.

SUNDAY

  • Express train to Narita.
  • Board 12:45PM flight.
  • Pass out.
  • Wake up as we land in Busan.
  • Commence screaming.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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18 Comments

  1. You are fucking nuts. But I love ya anyway. Please give my love to Ino-ko and Kichijoji. But I ain’t keen to go back. Don’t miss it at all. 7 years was maybe 3 years too long.

    • I think seven years was six years too long, Martine! But I’m having a great time so far and it’s fascinating to contrast it with Korea. So far Japan is winning hands down! But a big plus is being here and not having to attempt to teach anyone anything!

  2. Sounds fantastic! I remember you proudlyshowing me your photos from there some years back and they looked pretty good then.. so next they will be spectacular!

  3. That is one packed itinerary! Apart from general admiration with a sprinkling of envy, I am wondering about the green tea ice cream. Now I do enjoy a good green tea, but as ice cream? Not so sure.

    • My old place was closed, Rachael, but I got some at another garden. Man, what a blast — the top of my tongue was burning for half an hour! Having a great trip so far — itinerary working out with just some minor tweaking. Heading into the hills this morning — and an earth tremor last night strong enough to wake us up!

    • It’s a work in progress, Cameron, but it’s coming together nicely. Mountains today, and women up in the night by a shaking floor. Not the first time I’ve had that weird sensation either, by a long shot.

  4. Wow,you are good,with everything going on with you,keeping track of the itinerary and able to write on your blog,such a lengthy description is in my mind awesome!
    Thanks Goat.
    Ranu

  5. Goat, I admire your energy and ability to pack a lot in during such a short time. I felt exhausted just looking at your schedule!

    I must say, I do like the look of old, scanned photos. There’s something about the grainy look of film which always looks nice. It annoys me I spend so much time trying to take grain out of digital photos! I should leave it in now and again.

    Safe walking, but I hope you have a bit of drama, so you can entertain us when you’re back!

    • You think you feel exhausted! Man, I’m so tired I can’t sleep!

      It was fantastic! I couldn’t do all the urban things I wanted — shops etc, no time — but some splendid hiking and personal-history pilgrimages. I think I can safely say enough weird stuff happened to keep me going for quite a while in the blogging department!

    • Don’t go giving me ideas like that, SW. The little voice is already whispering along those lines. But I just got home, threw the dirty gear in the machine and tried to sleep — and couldn’t. I think I’m too fried to sleep! And last night I slept in a park…

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