Sunday, 10 March 2013


A throwaway joke quickly morphs into serious plans. My longtime friend Soymilk, who by complete coincidence ended up studying in Toukyou for the exact same term as I was invited to Kyouto, had always had the idea in mind, but last week we realised that with the way our academic schedules are likely to work out in the wake of this coming semester, if I didn't go now, I probably never would. So it's decided. Try to cram in as much Toukyou as possible in five days. Go time!

Because of my stupid-ass sleep schedule, I wake up at 6 in the evening on Friday but have to teach from 10 to 12 am on Saturday, at which point I should reasonably be sleeping. By the time I get home and make ready for my journey, I've only managed an hour's worth of recharge before I have to pack up my laptop and head out. I steal away in the late evening without telling anyone I'm leaving, or where I'm going, or how long I'll be gone. Just to be a prick. Laden with everything I've ever owned, my pack weighs more than I do. I look like a goddamn tourist, which, I guess, I now am. At least I don't have one of those stupid hiking backpacks.

Travelling alone always manages to make me feel capable and mature. No one else can guarantee my successful arrival; I have only my own skills and knowledge to depend on. Even if I have to ask someone, it was still me who had to parse the Japanese, and me who had to remember the information. Heading towards Kyouto Eki at night feels somehow sublime. There are only a handful of people to be found, which makes it feel somehow more momentous. Some of them have suitcases; fellow adventurers! I hope I don't need my passport. No passport as long as you're not crossing international boundaries, right? But then, this is Japan. You can't even buy a cell phone without your passport. I imagine them refusing to let me on the bus. 10,000 yen, burned. I'm detained incommunicado for 28 days on suspicion of terrorism. My possessions are seized, my Internet search history plumbed, and I'm deported as a sexual deviant.

Instead, they don't even ask for ID. Because this is Japan. I'd expected a permanent wicket somewhere inside, but instead, a battery of informal ones have been smashed together on shoddy school desks out front. I easily locate the departure area by the completely massive crowd of university students thronging around it. The night bus is notably cheaper than the daytime one, for the small tradeoff of being almost intolerable, making it naturally quite popular with those who lack the means to afford something better but possess the endurance to survive the indignity. I've also garnered a small discount for being a student, and another one for booking less than seven days from the date in question (a measure designed to tip nearly full charters through to completion). Pretty damn affordable, considering the distance. Shinkansen would have been twice the price, and I might not even have gotten a seat for that figure.

I've ridden the Greyhound before, so I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be up against. It turns out to be completely wrong. If this one experience is any indication, seats on highway buses in Japan are like seats in coach on an airplane, except not nearly as spacious and luxuriant. My backpack occupies an absurd amount of space; I have to take up contortionism just to fit. The entire vehicle rattles like a machine gun. The drivetrain sounds like human screaming. My plan is to sleep through the night to be ready for the day ahead, but it turns out it's kind of difficult to do while aboard a roiling murdercage. I somehow get in two hours, but then I'm too well-rested to fall asleep again, but too luckily not so alert that time seems to hold any meaning. Instead, I'm drawn into a netherworld built of my own repressed thoughts. My mind ranges to bizarre topics, a postmodernist pastiche of lucid dreaming, thoughts of the days ahead, and music I listened to ten years ago.

When I re-emerge into the real world (or once more descend into the illusion?), it's because we've arrived. So this is Toukyou. Though this is my fourth time in Japan, I've somehow never been. First impression is good; the surrounding buildings slap Kyouto and its dumbass construction ordinances right in its stupid face. I anticipate intimidating complexity from the Toukyou train system, with its intertwining lines and plethora of stations. (Not that Kyouto mass transit is underserviced. It's just that making full use of it requires taking the bus, and that's just not something I tangle with, ever, anywhere in the world.) As it turns out, once I figure out where the hell I'm supposed to go I find that the layout of the transit network is exquisitely clear and intuitive. The only thing that throws me is that their tickets are orange and their train interiors look like carseats. I quickly and easily find my way to Soymilk's station, well ahead of schedule, and contact him by loitering in front of Starbucks and stealing their Wi-Fi.

Rude Boy: I've slept 3 of the last 38 hours and my entire body hurts.
Soymilk: I told you not to take the night bus.

We head to his dormitory, where I will be illicitly staying while I'm here. Following another couple hours' respite, he asks me what I want to do first, because planning is for the weak. In my mind, there's no contest. The one place I want to visit in Toukyou, more than any other, is Shibuya. For Soymilk, this is the most boring possible choice. It's not just that he's been here for six months already and the charm has worn off, he never saw the appeal in the first place. For him, it's just a bunch of streets...with some people...and maybe one or two interesting shops. But he's a great sport about it, and dutifully leads me through the district, even helping me locate some of the most important landmarks from The World Ends with You, which is the main reason I want to go.
Scramble Crossing, the Times Square of Japan! And the place where Neku wakes up at the beginning of TWEWY!
Hachiko. Not as cool as Dougezazou, but it's where Neku first meets Shiki.

109, Shiki's favourite store. Damn but I love that design.

Tower Records, where new ambient and battle tracks are available for purchase.
Meiji Jinguu is on my list as well, and he half-remembers having seen a big shrine somewhere near Yoyogi Kouen. Bingo! It's, um, smaller and less interesting than I'd been led to believe. Does feature some beautiful long paths through the forest, though. Yoyogi Kouen is similarly underwhelming only because its 90% dirt right now. Really, it's goddamn massive. We pass some dudes doing their rockabilly stuff in the middle of the plaza, which I hear is a thing that people do. I'm also pleased that Toukyou, much farther to the north, hasn't yet succumbed to the hellish heat that's been brooked in my area the last few days. When I return to Kansai I will probably instantly die.

About time to head back. He remembers that there's a station just outside the park, which transpires to be...oh hi there! Harajuku Station!

Not much in the way of lolita or anything like that, but everyone around us is cuttingly fashionable. Soymilk repeatedly gives me hell for wearing a plain green shirt to Shibuya. We're both underdressed, he complains. And maybe if you dressed better, you wouldn't get rejected as much! Look at the Japanese guys around you. Start copying their style. You'll do so much better.


Soymilk: So do you feel like you could live here?
Rude Boy: I was just thinking that! I still prefer Oosaka, but yeah, I could really enjoy living here.
Soymilk: Oh, that's good.
Rude Boy: Mock if you want, but I really like the Scramble. Walking away from it, I feel like I've just seen the centre of the universe.
Soymilk: That sounds like something Murakami Haruki would say.
Rude Boy: Thanks!


  1. That bus trip sounds moderately harrowing. I imagined all forms of travel in Japan to be space-aged and beautiful, but I guess that was dumb of me. At least it was cheap(er)?

    Other things I liked about this post: Murakami and The World Ends With You references, also the greatness of the Tokyo subway.

    1. Well, this IS Japan, so as uncomfortable as it was it was still clean, speedy, and safe. Surely you've encountered far worse in your days on the road.

      I aim to please!

  2. I remember riding the highway bus from Kyoto to Tokyo, but my trip was an afternoon/evening trip so it wasn't so bad, still took forever though lol