Walkabout Japan

Chaos in Print

When the road before you splits in two, take the third path. – Neelix, from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

When you come across an intersection, you are invariably faced with a decision. You will stand in the middle of that intersection, and you will find yourself facing one of four choices: north, south, east, or west. I have been facing that decision a lot lately. I’ve been in Japan for a little over a month now, and I’m finding no greater pleasure in just coming to an intersection, wondering which way to go, and seeing what I’ll find in that direction. The vast majority of my weekends to date have been spent roaming the streets of Kumagaya, asking myself the same question: north, south, east, or west? At least, this is what I’d be asking, if those words didn’t lose all meaning for me.

Back home in Entwistle, it was always easy to orient myself and know where I am. The school was to the north, the store was to the south, the river was to the west, and Edmonton was east. But, an international flight and a messed up sleep schedule have completely thrown off my internal compass, and I no longer know where north, east, west, and south are. So, I’m starting to devise my own system. It’s my Kumagaya/Pinky Direction System.

When you leave the Kumagaya station, you are faced with one of four choices. Straight ahead of you, across the street, is McDonald’s. To your immediate left is a Japanese fast food place called Lotteria. To your immediate right is the department store AZ. And, right behind you, is the station. To walk towards the McDonald’s, you are heading “zort.” If you’re heading to Lotteria, you are going “poit.” AZ is “narf,” and if you go into the station, well, you’re heading due “troz.” This system was working fine, until I realized that, directly in front of Kumagaya station, etched into the floor, on the very spot that I stood to create this system, is a giant compass showing me exactly where north, south, east, and west are. But for now, I’ll stick with the Kumagaya/Pinky system.

So, for the past few weekends, this has been my system. My first weekend standing before the station, I decided to see what was troz. So, I turned around, cut through the station, and started heading troz. I walked through residential areas, until I came to a park. And what a wonderful park it was! One of my secret loves has always been the railroad, and here, on display in this park, was a wonderful old steam engine. I ooo-ed and ahh-ed and wished I could read Japanese so I could read the plaque on display. I continued wandering around this park, until I found a universal symbol telling me who the owners and maintainers of this park were. This was Rotary Park. I continued heading troz until I started climbing a set of stairs. As I climbed the stairs, I could soon start detecting a smell in the air. It was a smell I had smelt many times in my youth. The smell of wet sand, and just a general dampness in the air. I could smell water. I came to the top of the stairs, and found myself looking down over another park, and at the edge, a long, meandering river. I’ve been told what the river is called, but I’ve since forgotten. And that’s what I found to the troz of me.

For my next adventure, it was time to see what was poit. I walked poit, and I walked. I walked and walked and walked. I saw nothing but row upon row upon row of stores. I’ve been told that somewhere in all this is a pretty good sushi place, which I should really try to find, because I haven’t had sushi since training. The farthest poit I’ve gone is the Saty department store, with its wonderful movie theater. That’s the farthest poit I feel I can go on foot, because that has to be a good 60 blocks.

There’s not much to the narf of me. Another department store called Daie, a huge electronics store, and then industrial complexes as far as the eye can see. Not much narf.

No, my vast, unexplored territory is the zort, and most of my weekends have been in the zort direction. The farthest zort I used to go was Kumagaya city hall, with this wonderful park next to it. In fact, I dragged my laptop out of my apartment and it’s at that wonderful park where I’m currently writing this. This park has a wonderful little lagoon, complete with secluded waterfall. And there’s this great fountain. The fountain runs off into this man-made creek, and the creek flows along a concrete creek bed for about fifty feet, and then drains into a man-made pond. I’ve been frequenting this park on weekends, and there are always kids in shorts wading in that creek. Ahh, to be 6 again. Oh, who am I kidding? If I had the courage to put on a pair of shorts and show off my chubby white thighs, I’d be in that creek, too. And finally, on the clock tower in this park, I recognized another universal symbol that told me who cares for and looks after this park. This is the Lion’s Park. My goal was to go farther zort than Lion’s Park.

So, when the long weekend arrived, I packed up, and I started heading zort. The one thing that gets me, though, about doing all this walking in Kumagaya is doing it in the unbelievable heat! I count myself lucky that there’s a pop machine every fifty yards, as I know I’ll never dehydrate. It’s probably not a good idea to constantly re-hydrate with Pepsi, though. I’m sure I’ll start sweating sticky cola syrup. And it’s probably also not a good idea to feel I have to re-hydrate at every pop machine. But, cé la vie.

I continued zort through the blazing heat. I was passing houses and shops that didn’t look that interesting and restaurants I couldn’t afford. I marched on forth, with sun beating down on my hat. It was at this point that I started thinking, “You know what would be good right now? A Drumstick.” Lucky for me, I was passing a convenience store.

I stepped into that air conditioned oasis, and had a flashback to my youth. When I was in junior high, my mother ran the local meat shop one summer. That summer, as my brother and I were getting into mischief on the streets of Entwistle, we stopped in to see Mom, and my brother and I made a great discovery. On a blazing hot day, there is nothing more refreshing than 10 minutes inside a walk-in cooler. I stepped into that convenience store, and was back in that cooler.

I browsed through the store, looking through the drink coolers, but admitted that wasn’t why I came in. I went to the ice cream freezer, opened it up, sorted through the things, and found something that looked like a Drumstick. Ice cream, stuffed in a cone, chocolate and peanuts on top, yup, it was a Drumstick. I bought it and stepped back outside. I was hit with a wall of heat, and had another flashback. There’s a woodstove in my home in Entwistle, and every winter, I have to see how hot a fire I can get in it. Whenever I opened the door to throw in another log, I was always hit in the face with an intolerable blast of heat. When I left that air conditioned oasis, it were as though I had opened the doors to the woodstove. Only problem was, my journey was to continue in the woodstove.

I continued marching zort, munching on my Drumstick. Ice cream was going down good that day. Soon, the Drumstick was safely in my belly, and I had a hand full of Drumstick wrapper. I’m no litterbug, and so I was carrying it with me until I found a garbage can. I did eventually find one, and it was in front of a video game store/video rental place. I thought I’d step in to check it out. At the very least, it was another air conditioned oasis. I wandered among the bottom floor, which had the video games. That didn’t interest me so much, so I headed on upstairs to check out the movie rental place.

The first thing I noticed on the movie rental level was the Pokémon wall. Floor to ceiling, nothing but Pokémon videos. The entire first season, on video, even the episodes that were banned in North America. I have to get a VCR so I can check them out. Every movie, even #4, which doesn’t hit North American theaters until this fall. I have to get a VCR. Right next to this was the Sailor Moon wall. Every episode of every season and every movie, right there, ready for the watching. I have to get a VCR. I continued wandering around the movie rental level until I accidentally wandered into the porn section. You know, it’s not that there’s a lot more porn in Japan than Canada, it’s just easier to accidentally run into when you don’t know what you’re supposed to avoid. After puzzling over a video cover featuring a woman in a Snow White/Disney princess costume performing lewd acts, I decided it was time to continue my journey due zort.

I trudged on through the sun, wondering what more there was to the zort. What did I hope to accomplish? What did I hope to find? I don’t know. I was on a mission. I was out there, exploring strange new worlds. I was seeking out new life and new civilizations! Well, no, that wasn’t it. I was just the bear who went over the mountain. I wanted to see what I could see.

And what I saw was something that looked out of place in Japan. It was a very large building. Well, large compared to what was around it. It’s architecture wasn’t Japanese, it was…European. Yes, upon closer inspection, I had found a German building in Japan. I had no idea why this hear or what it was for. I couldn’t read the sign, and I didn’t feel like venturing inside. Was it a motel? A restaurant? I don’t know. It’s worthy of a return trip. I continued zort.

It must have been at least 50 blocks when I came to what seemed like an expressway. Yeah, a paved road with cards going really fast on it is very likely an expressway. Across the street was…a McDonald’s! I chuckled at this. I also figured that I had gone as far zort as I wanted to. The only problem with walking incredibly long distances is the realization that you have to walk back. Lucky for me, the walk back always feels like it goes quicker.

I arrived at my Universal Starting Point: Kumagaya station. From here, I went straight home and had myself a nice, long, soak in the tub. Nothing like a nice hot bath after a really long walk to relax your tired legs. Now, I know what you’re thinking. A big, tough guy like me, having a bath? That’s girly. Well, you have no right to call me girly. Have a nice long bath. You’ll like it. Although, one of the previous foreign teachers did leave behind some lavender scented bath powder, so I thought I’d throw that in to see what it would be like. *sigh* Now you can call me girly.

Invariably, as we walk around, we are faced with four decisions: north, south, east, or west. When we want to explore; when we want to see what is around us, those are the four options available to us. I’ve gone everywhere I can go on foot, but still I find myself facing that decision: north, south, east, or west. But now, I’m starting to add on a little tag. Now, I’m starting to get adventurous. Now, I want to see so much more than my legs can show me. My new question is now by bus, or by train? North, south, east, or west? By bus, or by train? I think I just left this open for a sequel.

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