There was this real bastard that I went to school with. I’ll never forget how he was bragging around the fifth grade or so how he had his name legally changed to something very feminate. He was one of the meaner kids, always picking on me and the like, kicking me in the ass when I was bent over to get some things out of the bottom of my locker, stuff like that. I’ll never forget the last conversation that we had. It was in Grade 11 or so, we were screwing around instead of doing our math assignments, and talk soon turned to what to do after graduation. I said something like, “Well, don’t you want to travel? Don’t you want to go anywhere?” He said, “Like where?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, like New York City.” He looked at me with horror. “New York City?” he said. “Are you nuts? With all the crime and stuff that goes on there? As soon as you get off the plane, you’d get mugged! You’d get your ass kicked in some dark alley. And Mark, you’re also so gay, that if you ever go to New York, you’d probably be raped. DON’T LAUGH AT ME! It’d probably happen…to you. So, fuck, I’m never going to New York.” So now, whenever I’m walking the streets of Tokyo, I can’t help but laugh at him.
I first came to this realization as I was wandering around Shibuya. Shibuya is the section of Tokyo which seems to have the greater majority of stores geared for the young and popular folks. This was shortly before Halloween, so some of my coworkers recommended a few stores in Shibuya as good places for Halloween costumes. It was my first time to Shibuya, so I had left bright and early in the morning to give myself lots of time to explore. And besides, the directions to the store I wanted to check out were a little fuzzy.
I was impressed with Shibuya. I am constantly amazed at the towers of glass and steel, and how I am reduced to a mere insect in between them. Whenever I explore a place like Shibuya, I have no real plan. I just walk in amongst the buildings until something strikes me as interesting. And, for the most part, Shibuya wasn’t striking me as that interesting. It was mostly the same conglomeration of department stores that I had seen elsewhere. I made my usual stops, which tend to be HMV, Virgin Music Megastore, and Tower Records. You can take the DJ out of the radio station…. I began to miss my DVD player all the more as, in Tower Records, I found myself plopping down in front of a TV and watching the entire last half of Spider-Man. But I did discover that they carry the English-language version of ToyFare, so I grabbed the latest issue. I continued roaming Shibuya’s streets. I stopped for lunch at a KFC, which had a plaque out front, proudly proclaiming it as the 500th KFC in Japan. I’m still too chicken to try most Japanese fast food places, even though they have the amazing simplicity of buying a ticket from a vending machine and giving the ticket to your waiter. The majority of them even have pictures of the food on the vending machine. After my lunch, I found the store that was recommended to me, and I was a little disappointed. Back home, a store with the name “The Loft” gives the impression that it’s some little, out-of-the-way ultra-cool store. But in Shibuya, it was just another department store. And I actually wasn’t too impressed with their selection of Halloween costumes.
Something I was impressed with a few weeks later was Akihabara. Since I’m a person who has always been fond of computers, DVD players, and other hi-end electronics, I was always told that Akihabara was the place for me. Akihabara is Tokyo’s “tech district,” where they have the largest conglomeration of computer stores, appliance stores, and stuff like that. Take your average city back home. Take all of your Future Shops and CompuSmarts and Radio Shacks and put them all in one corner of the city. Then, triple the size you’re probably thinking of. That’s Akihabara.
When I finally got to Akihabara, I had no goal in mind. I was doing it purely in the name of exploration. And, of course, if I found a multiregional DVD player to play DVDs from back home, all the better. And while there were a lot of electronics stores in Akihabara, I did manage to finally find some souvenir stores, specializing in appropriately tacky souvenirs of Japan. Akihabara seems made for foreigners, as many places offer duty-free merchandise. I didn’t bring much money with me, however, so I guess my family back home will have to wait until January or so to get a huge influx of Japanese gifts from me. Here, I was finding a lot more of the secluded specialty stores that I was expecting to find in Shibuya, and I did leave Akihabara with a 10-year old, mint in package, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure. In the end, I left Akihabara with the though I have every time I leave any hi-end electronics store: I need more money.
When I was done in Akihabara, I wanted to head over to Shinjuku to do some shopping, so I hopped on the rapid train that cut across the city. Just so you know, there are pretty much three kinds of regular trains in Japan. There’s the local trains, which look kind of like typical mass transit rail trains and stop at every stop. Then there are the rapid trains, which are just like local trains, but only make half as many stops. And then, there are the express trains, which resemble normal Canadian passenger trains and only stop at the major stops. Those world-famous bullet trains however (called “shinkansen”) are in a class by themselves. Nine times out of ten, I’m riding a local. I can’t afford the express and am too impatient to wait for a rapid to come along. But, lucky for me, I caught the Chuo Rapid train that sliced right across Tokyo.
I arrived in Shinjuku and immediately embraced the familiarity. Whenever I say “I’m going to Tokyo,” it’s generally Shinjuku I wind up at. Shinjuku is, for all intents and purposes, “downtown Tokyo.” It’s where the majority of skyscrapers are (including my company’s head office) and you’ll even find Tokyo City Hall there. I have yet to wander too far from the Shinjuku station, as the stores that I like to check out tend to be in that area. There are some massive English-language bookstores just a stone’s throw away. Plus, it’s also home to one of the few Wendy’s I’ve found in Japan, so I always wind up there when I’m missing one of Dave Thomas’s classic hamburgers. I’ve also recently been told that it is home to one of Japan’s few Dairy Queens, so I’ll have to keep my eyes open for that next time I want a banana split. I picked up the few things I needed to pick up and hopped on the next train bound for Kumagaya.
Whenever I come back from Tokyo, I’m always amazed at how close it is, how often I’ve been to it, and yet, how little I’ve actually seen. In the grand scheme of things, all I’ve really seen is a little segment of Shinjuku, and now tiny pieces of Shibuya and Akihabara. And there’s just so much more! Many students have told me of little tourist spots in Ikebukuro. The majority of Japan’s national museums are in Ueno. There’s the Imperial Palace in Tokyo district. Yes, Tokyo has a district called “Tokyo.” And, of course, Tokyo Disneyland. I actually forgot Japan had a Disneyland until I got here and saw the ads on TV. I’m starting to put together a “to-do” list of things to see in the New Year, and I’ve already got a month’s worth of weekend trips put together. The way I see it, Tokyo is one of the biggest and most famous cities in the world, so I’d be stupid not to see as much of it as I can. The train trips back from Tokyo are good for planning stuff like this. And of course, my mind also goes back to people I knew in my youth, like that bully.
Shortly after he and I had our final conversation, he dropped out of high school. He found himself a real neat job as a welder’s assistant and figured that, if he worked as a welder’s assistant long enough, he could just challenge the exam and become a certified welder. That way, he wouldn’t have to put up with high school anymore. But, I did see him once, when I was a bagboy at Extra Evil. I think it was him. He just kind of glared at me, and as he walked out the door, he slowed down as he walked by me and whispered just loud enough for me to hear: “Loser.” Well, guess what? Right now I’m in Japan, taking in the nightlife of Tokyo and gettin’ it on with Asian honeys ever night. And when I’m done here, I’m going to go check out New York City. I’ll send you a postcard from the Statue of Liberty, with this simple message on the back: “Fuck you.”