PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE
TOKYO, AUGUST 2013
It’s been a long haul but this post concludes my little Tokyo series. It’s time I embraced the here and now, or at least the here and not-too-many-months-ago. I can at last start on my daunting backlog of Korea posts, like all the lovely Autumn ones — now that Winter is moving in to shake the last of the colour from the maples and the town itself…
One calendar month from yesterday, two years after I arrived, I’m outta here. It hasn’t always been an easy stay — in fact it’s never been an easy stay — but I’m trying to finish my Korean adventure with something like grace and even gratitude. Sunday was one of my best days ever in the country, revisiting Songjeong Beach for the last time, and enjoying one of those epiphanic ocean sunrises from a rocky perch above Haedong Yonggung Temple.
It’ll be all Korea for the next month, including some final thoughts and some favourite-photos posts.
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I’ve never pretended to provide any practical know-how on TGTW, but for budget-conscious travellers seeking tips on affordable Tokyo accommodation, I’m here to help.
I got into Shinjuku at last following that semi-successful quest for a glimpse of Mt Fuji, and what with the mountain, the long bout of train travel, plus the previous day’s two mountains and night sans sleep in a damp down bag, I had this craving for a nice, comfy, quiet bed.
And this was Shinjuku, where quiet comes to die in screeching agony.
I’d thought of seeking out a capsule hotel, but trudging against the tide of Saturday night fun-seekers in my dirty mountain duds, I felt like a guppy dumped into a piranha tank. Quickly defeated, I jumped back on a train, outbound to Kichijoji, home of Inokashira Park and a love hotel or two.
I dimly remembered a rundown place near the park, but having stomped the backstreets without success, crossed under the tracks and over to the more raucous side. I found a couple of potential places — and then remembered I needed cash, since Japan still refuses to embrace those puzzling pieces of plastic we westerners take for granted.
Back to the main drag and an ATM, then a long slump to the love shack I’d selected. Up I went, heart thumping, to the tiny window and the weathered gargoyle perched on a stool behind some gauzy curtains. This part is never easy. It’s usually successful in Korea (two or three knock-backs so far) but a gaijin‘s (Japan) or waygookin‘s (Korea) scary face at that little curtained window can elicit a disappointing response in less cosmopolitan inn-keeps.
“Stay?” I offered, assuming my best wet-puppy demeanour. “How much?”
I could see it coming, the it-pains-me-deepy-to-turn-you-away-but-eat-shit-and-die face any westerner in Japan has enjoyed — usually in the sticks — when seeking shelter. A spew of well-rehearsed garbage erupted through the voice-holes; I only understood nihongo (Japanese language) but I’d heard it all before: I’m so sorry, but if you can’t speak Japanese, it will be very difficult…
Yeah, lady, the language skills involved in taking my cash and handing me a key to your SEX PALACE (where, guess what, the last thing any guest wants is any interaction with management) would plainly be insurmountable.
I jammed my fist up to the window and thrust my middle finger heavenward with the following immortal rebel yell:
“That is very bad! VERY BAD!”
(I’m an English teacher. We learn to modify our language to aid comprehension by low-level learners and medieval shitheads.)
I went pounding down the alleys, plotting sweet gaijin-style revenge. I thought of trying another place but couldn’t face it — rejection is so hurtful for us tragic romantics. Instead I aimed at a convenience store I remembered from years back, loaded up on snacks and grapefruit Chu-Hi, and paced with renewed purpose to the park, good old Inokashira, oasis of sanity and nature, of dark and sheltering shrubbery.
Around I went, scanning for bivouacs — not easy, since it’s a well-trod park, floodlit comprehensively with the force of a hundred full moons. But I soon found a campsite, conveniently situated in a thicket of fronds and branches near a toilet block. I inflated my mattress, laid out my bivy sack and reclined with booze and onigiri to access my choice.
It looked better with every citrus-flavoured gulp. Young lovers, wretched loners and garrulous drunkards ambled past, oblivious to the voyeur in the perennial beds. You’re a genius, Goat, I said out loud, not for the first time that day. Kate called from New York; I filled her in: “Guess what, baby! I’m sleeping in the park! I know, I know, you can really pick ’em, right?”
“No, no, I’ll be fine, if they don’t patrol the park too carefully, and no salarymen urinate on me in the night. I hate that. Yeah, it’s warm, don’t even need my bag. Yeah, I checked for syringes — all clear. Huh? Not sure, maybe philodendrons? Nice glossy foliage, though, should look really sweet with dawn breaking through the fronds.”
Sleep was deep and tranquil — all three hours of it.
Not sure what woke me, the lightening sky through the cherry branches, or the cyclists, joggers and other maniacs paying homage to the Dawn. But I was up, and Narita was a long way off.
The park was especially beautiful that morning. Strolling round the pond, I almost forgave that twisted old fascist at the hotel for forcing a hapless journeyman out into the Tokyo night.
I freshened up — splashed water from a skungy restroom sink; changed into my clean resuming-the-human-race shirt — and watched in bemusement as old folk descended on the park for group exercise sessions with a blaring radio.
Goodbye, Inokashira. So long, Tokyo. Sayonara, Japan. I’ve got a plane to catch. But first, how about another train or two?
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote