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…
..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:
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:
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:
- 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.
- Up early. Chuo Line train inbound to Kichijoji and one of the best parks in Tokyo, Inokashira:
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.
- 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:
- 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:
- 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!
- 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:
Hopefully get some good shots. I only have a handful — she’s notoriously shy — of faded, grainy images:
- Night in a Shinjuku capsule hotel, cheapest digs in town. Hot communal bath, perhaps even blog from within a wifi-equipped fibreglass coffin.
- 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