lunes, 29 de agosto de 2011

Magnetic Tokyo


The ride back to Kunitachi city in West Tokyo took less than 5 hours and a large part of the rout followed the coast line. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the beaches were filled with sun worshipers, surfers, and families gathered around barbecue pits roasting yakitori. For more than 7 km I rode along the boardwalk, where I encountered many a surfer carrying their boards fixed to the sides of bikes. Bicycles are an integral part of the culture in this part of Japan and so ubiquitous are bikes that in metropolitan Tokyo cyclists are forced to pay to park their rides. It is illegal to lock in many places and cycles in violation are impounded; however there is plenty of paid parking just for bikes. Every metro station is equipped with bike parking and there are even subterranean lots outfitted with special bike ramps. Although I find the idea novel, I still can't get used to paying just to park my bike! If bike riding is to become mainstream back home as it is here, and I certainly hope it does, this is something I'll have to get used to.

I had planned to remain in Tokyo only one day and start heading north as soon as possible,
but the magnetism of Tokyo and the people I've met here make it hard to leave. In the
evening I join the Taku household on a small trip to the local supermarket to scourer the trash
and we return home with a mountain of vegetables. I never cease to be amazed by the
waste in Japan and gratefully we dine on a feast of steamed edemame, small cucumbers
with miso, a large fresh salad of butter leaf lettuce and raw vegetables, and a curry from
tomatoes, green peppers and turnips, all of which was salvaged from the garbage. We are
joined by another young man named Love; a Swede, lanky and red-headed, he is a university student living in Tokyo now for 4 years. Love tells me about an underground network of urban bike racers he has recently become acquainted with; I am intrigued and now I don't want to leave the city without first attending a race. Tokyo is without a doubt the best urban cycling in the world, with its impossibly smooth streets, long straightaways, and the general courteousness of Japanese drivers with cyclists. Another couple days in Tokyo perhaps.

jueves, 25 de agosto de 2011

Life's a Beach

Paradise at the yoga retreat of June and Libby. After some delays with my storage locker, I finally arrived by bicycle to Stacy's temporary residence, some 50 km south of Tokyo, where she has been living in the guesthouse of her friends June and Libby's yoga retreat. Liby is an Australian-born freckle-faced potter and she lives with her Japanese husband adonis, who is a yoga instructer. The two of them built on their property a yoga studio for June's practice and it is here I've spent the last couple of nights sleeping on a fouton matress. I am awaken early each morning by Stacy, who is also a Yoga instructor, accompanied by June, on their dialy yoga ritual. Instead of yoga, which I have no patience for, I chose instead to meditate on a sketch of their portrait.

My afternoons are spent cycling the twin beach communities of Akiya and Kamakura with Stacey. The city has commissioned artists to design their respective sewage caps. It is my intention to document each one by means of rubbings with conti on ricepaper; this is a prototype.

Free Food and Food for Thought

Still life from only one section of a single bounty of dumpstered food.

Both Yama and Mitchi work what some might consider a regular job, which govern their lives in a way almost stereotypical of the Japanese. That is to say, the image of the hardworking Japanese tourist who travel only on a very limited holiday. I don't mean any offense to either Yama or Mitchi, both of whom I respect tremendously. Yama, despite working a full time job, finds time to write and play some incredible music. And Mitchi is a good friend and always up for an adventure. What I mean to say, is that it is this lifestyle that was my introduction to the Japanese and therefore made my stay with Taku and his roommates the more strikingly different. First off, sharing a house is uncommon in Japan, where personal space is highly valued and many landlords refuse to rent to multimple tenants. All three flatmates, Taku, Magi and Takashi do hospice work with the disabled, which requires no more than 2 days a week time and is sufficient to sustain them. It's a good thing he doesn't have to work a regular job, because Taku doesn't have the time: a million other projects more important than money occupy his attention, such as community building, activism, and building tall bikes. Coincidentally, he has been working on kick starting a Tokyo bike initiative for some time now and I found his experiences culturally enlightening to say the least. He had approached the city about a recycled bike program and even had the support of a green party politician, but Taku came up against roadblocks of a rigid system of bicycle registration and corporate licensing and contracting agreements. Taku told me a story about how he once found a bike in the garbage and built it up. A police officer stopped him and ran the bike's serial number. Needless to say, the bike didn't belong to him, as far as the computer was concerned, and Taku was brought to the station where he was fingerprinted and the bike was confiscated. Taku complains that there is very little space in Japan for those who wish to live outside mainstream society. The blue tent communities I saw in Yoyogi park, he explains, are an anomaly in today's Tokyo. They are holdovers from a bygone era and are sort of "grandfathered in". An outsider couldn't just go and set up a tent, as they are under constant surveillance. There used to be many more in fact. That is why it was such a big deal when Miyashita-Koen evicted the homeless there. The homeless are being pushed out, as neighborhood after neighborhood become more and more gentrified. Maybe it's a losing battle in Tokyo, but I'm glad there are still people in Japan like Taku, Kay, and Megu, who fight for the rights of the underdog here and generally march to the beat of a different drum.

Who said there was no good dumpstering in Tokyo? In the morning Taku took me to a supermarket he knew that doesn't padlock their dumpster and we found a heap of really good food: one chocolate eclair wrapped in plastic, one container of some kind of delicious seaweed wrap, 5 peaches, a case of bubble gum, a 2 1/2 lb bag of rice, lettuce and cabbage. Megu came over later that night and I cooked us a big feast; my turn to share in a cultural exchange, it was the first time any of them had tasted fruit in a salad before and they loved it.

I've spent so much money my first couple weeks in Japan and it is comforting to know that I have options. Food in supermarkets here are meticulously organized and fruits and vegetables, which are astronomically expensive (more than ¥350 or $4 for a single peach), are individually displayed, almost on a podium, and without blemish. This inevitably means that supermarkets throw out a lot of really good food! However and for whatever reason, most lock up their trash. Japanese are very hygienic and even trash bins on the street are covered in green fly paper, so it isn't a surprise that supermarket waste would be held in special storage containers, not necessarily for security. However, this makes dumpstering a little tricky, because breaking into a storage locker is slightly more dubious than just crawling inside a garbage bin. I have however, found supermarkets with accessible trash dispensers and my efforts have been well rewarded. The still ife pictured here was assembled from one such dumpster excursion from a supermarket in Akiya. We have come to refer to it as the magic dumpster, because every night it is refilled with ripe fruit and fresh vegetables, fresher than some fruit stands sell on discount, and all carefully arranged in a single trash bin only for produce. This particular arrangement of fruit in the still life included blockchoi, peaches, mizuna lettuce, goya (a bitter summer gourd that looks much like a warty cucumber), a peach and bananas.  

A Free Space

The Kakekomitei or free space,  is a bar in the traditional Japanese style, located in the alternative Kunitachi neighborhood in West Tokyo. Between the Myashita-Koen protest and the after party at a similar bar in Koenji, I've made some friends among Tokyo's small anarchist scene. Megu approached me in the park when I was sketching the Blue Sky Karaoke and asked to see my other drawings. She is 23 and in her last year of college where she studies music. She has been involved in protests throughout Japan on a variety of issues, but these days most everyone is talking nuclear. Last night it was with Megu and her friends I attended the afterparty in Koenji and it was with the same clique I found myself in Kunitachi attending a benefit concert followed by talks on radioactivity. The patrons of the Kakekomitei are a tight nit group of activists, musicians, artists, writers, and even a famous Japanese actress was in attendance that night (so I am told). I arrived late in the evening and a birthday celebration was underway for the bar's owner, a wiry old man with a big smile by the name of Bokemaru, but fondly referred to by his customers simply as Master. Master gave me a big welcoming hug; laughing and joking with me however, he was slightly inebriated and his Japanglish was difficult to understand. Our miscommunications were soon interrupted as the entire bar broke out in song of happy birthday and a large spread of food was brought to the tutami floor. Drinks that night were self serve and free of charge on the occasion of Master's birthday and everyone drank liberally.  Around three in the morning when the festivities began to die down, blankets and pillows were distributed and the bar's patrons one by one drifted off to sleep. I noticed this unique custom of sleeping in bars also at the after party in Koenji and I'm told it's quite common. The metro stops running at night and taxis in Japan are very expensive and so as an alternative, bars sometimes offer accommodations to their patrons. I however decided instead to accept an invitation to the home of one of Megu's friends, Taku, a young man who rides a tall bike and lives in a shared space not far from the bar.

lunes, 22 de agosto de 2011

I Find my Tokyo Niche


Tokyo's anarchist info shop, Irregular Rythm Assylum, according to Indie Media, is a
privately-owned business, but it's owners insist profit is not their mission. Located on the
second floor of a nondescript office building in the Shinjuku neighborhood, IRA is the hub
of the DIY movement here in Tokyo. The shop is a meeting place for different community
groups, it has a wide selection of zines and anarchist publications for sale, and it provides
services to activists in the realm of publishing and screen printing. On Thursdays, IRA hosts
a sewing workshop, as well as a variety of other events. The infoshop even publishes its
own zine/newsletter. Kay, who is the shop's manager and co owner, greets me with tea on
my arrival and patiently provides me with answers to all the questions I have about Tokyo's
counterculture scene. I tell him about my experience at the JCA and ask him if he knows of
any initiatives to kick start such a bike collective. He says there has been a lot of talk, but lack of
funds has been an impediment. Regarding dumpstering, Kay confirms my suspicions that
supermarkets covet their trash, but he has had some luck scouring the trash of convenient
stores like 7-11. I describe for Kay the squatter community I encountered in Yoyogi-Koen and
he discounts my refugee theory; they are instead a Tokyo-grown homestead movement. Kay
has several friends in the community and suggests they might be a good resource for me in
such matters as dumpstering. The homesteaders are an active community and on weekends
they host a cafe speakeasy and drawing sessions and he suggests that it is then I should
make their acquaintance. At the end of our conversation I feel even more excited about being
in Tokyo and I wish I could stay longer, but I have plans to start cycling north before the week
is out.

Bike tour further delayed! I receive an email today from Stacey, my travel partner, that she
will be arriving this weekend in Japan from Thailand. I met Stacey last month on my bike tour
of Northern India in Leh-Ladakh, a small city nestled high up in a sub alpine region of the
Himalayas. Stacey, an American living in Japan for nine years now, is the reason I decided to
come to this country. Before we parted ways, her own travels taking her to Southeast Asia,
we made plans to cycle in Japan together come September. After hearing of the situation
in Fukushima and Myagi-ken, I've decided I want to get a head start and stop for a week in Sendai to volunteer with the relief effort there. She is returning to Japan earlier than expected and although our plans haven't changed, Stacey has requested my assistance in preparing for our trip together. I'm excited to see where Stacey lives and on Tuesday morning I will leave Tokyo for Kamakura, a small beach community 40 km south of Japan's capital city.

An evening spent at the Cafe Lavanderia with proprietors Yumiko and Toshi, and their friend
DJ Mix Noise. Yumiko is a poet, she makes and collects zines and has edited and published several
books. She gives me a couple of her zines, which hopefully one day I will understand, if i
ever get around to learning Japanese. Her husband seems to be the one with the fascination
of Revolutionaries from Latin America and Yumiki shows me a zine he published on the
subject. Yumiko is thrilled that I am from New Orleans; she is well acquainted with the Iron
Rail's world famous zine collection, and is genuinely grieved to learn about the current trials of
our New Orleans' infoshop and all the activity since the showdown between the police and the
Krewe of Eris this year in the days preceding Mardi Gras.

Irregular Rhythm Asylum is chock full of activity today with a kimchi cook off, followed by
the weekly sewing workshop. Inspired by my conversation with Yomiko, I decide to make a
copy of my zine about queer dissension in Mexico City for both Lavanderia and IRA. Kaysan
equips me with a pair of scissors, a box cutter, and spray paint and I make my self comfortable
on the floor and begin cutting and pasting a prototype of the zine. By nighfall, people pour into
the small infoshop and some visiting Koreans make raddish crepes for everyone, a typical
Korean dish they often make for Free Markets in Seoul. I make the acquaintance of one
Monanori, who tells me he is going to Sendai this weekend to volunteer in the relief effort and
we trade contact information with a plan of meeting up in the North.


Protest at Miyashita-Koen. One year ago the park was privatized in a joint ownership between
the city of Shibuya and the Nike corporation, the latter of which funded the building of a
skate park within the park's confines. Under its new legal status a curfew was enacted and
the homeless people who lived here were evicted. Long before the privatization went into
effect, a group of activists organized the homeless to protest the city's plan of privatization,
but their efforts were unsuccessful. Annually, activists and homeless continue to gather here
and demand the park be returned to the people. It is a lively event: a slew of booths provide
information on all sorts of social issues, food and drink is distributed to the homeless, and
a stage is shared between speakers, live bands, and most notably, what is known as Blue
Sky karaoke. The term has its routs in the blue tent communities of Osaka, where a favorite
past time of the homeless community was prohibited by city ordinance. Despite its political
nature, Blue Sky Karaoke is a comical affair, as men and women in tattered clothes, some drunk, sing
and dance, some beautifully and others in horse and slurred speech, to the amusement of
all. The festivities continued until a half past seven, at which time the park's PA system's
announcement of curfew kicks off a parade, in which a robot made of found material is
hoisted on shoulders and pranced around the park to a revelry of song and dance.

Home Sweet Home Yoyogi-Koen

My first night slumming in Tokyo's parks didn't go so well. I chose to lay my blanket in a
picturesque spot underneath a flowering tree in a grassy nook of the small Shinjuku park;
but no sooner than an hour's time and I am rudely awaken by a scourge of ants waging a
battle in every nook and cranny of my sleep-deprivated body. Evidently I picked one of their
barraks or superhighways to lay my bedding and warrior ants retaliate, crawling inside my
clothes, initiating a concerted attack. Like a crazy man I jump to feet, tear off my clothes, and
with flailing arms I desperately brush off my assailants to a torrent of profanities. Fumbling
belongings with bicycle, I stumble in the dark and seek refuge on a bench safely floating in a
river of concrete pavers. Shortly thereafter, I am once again forced into wakefulness by the
scorching heat of a brutal summer sun. I gather my things yet again in search of shelter, this
time a shaded stairwell, in which I somehow manage to make myself comfortable on narrow
steps. By this time the park is filled with dogwalkers, athelites, and the jubilant laughter of
school children at play. How I must appear to these people, who step over me without the
slightest objection, a stark contrast from the other homeless men and women in tattered rags
asleep on beds of cardboard; myself, an oversized whitey, hairsuit with the exception of a
cleanly shaven balding cranium, I rest soundly beneath a startched woolen blanket I nabbed
from the Indian Airlines jet on which I arrived to this country, my loaded tourbike resting on the
ground beside me. I am too tired to budge and allow myself to return to a deep slumber until
late morning; and the Japanese parkgoers are gracious enough to allow it.

After a long day exploring Tokyo by bike, I meet up with Michi for drinks and a bite to eat
at a yakatori bar. Michi then shows me to a park she thinks I will find more comfortable than
Shinjuku koen. I can live forever in Yoyogi koen! With its secluded pastures, live oaks, and
elegant flower beds, it's a haven in metropolitan Tokyo. There is even bathroom facilities in
which I can sinkshower, having been properly trained in the art of bucket bathing in India.
The bathroom sink is located outside the toylette facilities in plain view of the park and I
attract strange looks as I strip to my underwear, using my waterbottle to rinse soapsuds from
my nearly naked body. I am soon approached by a young man who chats me up during my
cleaning ritual; he is greatly amused by me and before he departs he asks for my contact
information, inviting to treat me to dinner sometime. I can't tell if he is hitting on me or not, but
I am flattered by his interest and it is in good spirits I head off to sleep on a picnic table.

I am awaken early in the morning by a police officer on a bike. I sit upright to watch as he
makes his rounds to the other sleeping vagrants around me. Unlike myself, the others don't
budge and make no effort to appease the officer who is rudely distrubing their slumber, and I,
following their example, lie back down for a few more hours of shut-eye.

I am enjoying my life as a vagrant of Yoyogi Koen. A sound sleep, with only a mild disruption
by the park police, followed by a sinkshower, then tea at the park cafe and back to my picnic
table, which serves me as dinning table, office, and sleeping quarters. Here I spend the
better part of a day drawing, writing, and studying Japanese. It is late afternoon by the time
pangs of hunger force me from my park refuge in search of sustenance. Leaving the park I
notice a blue tent community nestled in a heavily wooden area; neat paths lead to make-shift
dwellings, which have been creatively decorated with found materials. How is it homeless
communities such as this one are permitted to occupy a public park so blatently? Are they refugees
from Fukushima and Miyagi-ken, which were so recently devestated by the earthquake?

I continue out of the park and cycle past a few supermarkets on a reconnaissance of their
dumpsters - surely they cannot sell all those neatly packed box lunches and day old bread,
even on discount. To my dismay, the supermarkets lock away or hides their trash and I am
forced to pay for my supper like everybody else.

Rain. Just as vagrancy begins to turn sour, my couch surfing connect finally responds to
my inquiry. He was away from Tokyo visiting family when I arrived to Japan and took some
days to respond to my request, the only one of which I sent out on the cs network before
arriving from India. I meet up with Yama around ten and we head to a bar for a couple of
drinks. Yama lived in Brazil for two years and traveled extensively throughout Latin America,
but these days he works for a large import export company and has little time for socializing
during the work week. The little free time he does have is spent recording music and playing
gigs. Over beers, I regal him with tales of India and share with him my sketchbook from
that country and he shares with me his experienes of living abroad in Brazil. It is two in the
morning by the time we leave the bar and when we arrive to his house, he gives me a key,
inviting me to stay my few remaining days in Tokyo.

jueves, 18 de agosto de 2011

My First Friend in Tokyo!

Last night after dinner I took a small survey of the neighborhood for prospects of a place to crash in days to come. The park alongside the river was quiet and I could see a few homeless people sleeping undisturbed. At the hostel I voiced my intentions of slumming it to a fellow American who said that he had in fact pitched a tent in a park here in Tokyo without incident. He assured me Tokyo is a safe city and I should feel no trepidations about sleeping outdoors. These sentiments are confirmed by wikipedia, which to my amazement devotes a full-length page to urban camping in Tokyo. I check out of my hostel and b-line it for Asakusa Station, where I stash the bulk of my gear into a locker, to the tune of ¥300 ($3.9)/per day, not bad. I am already feeling better about my funds and I head to Magro bito, a sushi restaurant also on Kaminarimon-dori. I enter the restaurant to a series of greetings from the entire staff, which I am beginning to learn is customary here in Japan. I take a seat at the sushi bar, an oblong circle that dominates the fairly large-size and bustling restaurant. At eye level, a conveyor belt sends plates of sculpted concoctions of rice and fish before my eyes. I settle into my seat and immediately snatch a plate of fatty tuna sushi. Much tastier than sushi in New Orleans, the Chinese and Vietnames cooks employed at most Sushi restaurants in the United States do little justice to Japanese cuisine. It soon becomes apparent that the plates are color coded according to price and after my meal the plates will be tallied for my bill. After two whites, a yellow, and a red plate, I've spent ¥800 ($10.40) - not bad for a sushi joint!

No longer hindered by reservations at a hostel, I decide to explore Tokyo. I head to Akasaka,
to the offices of the Japan Cycling Association (JCA). The streets are ideal for cycling, but
I am still unfamiliar with navigating my way around the city. At an intersection I ask young
man also on a bike for directions. His English is rudimentary and he has difficulty explaining
the route. Finally he resolves to take me to my destination himself. It turns out he is a bike
messenger and knows the city well and in no time we arrive at a stoic office building and the bike messenger speeds off before I even have time to thank him. Once inside I find the offices of the JCA no less formal. I wait in the lobby as the secretary looks for someone who can speak English. On a display rack are copies of a magazine about bike culture in Tokyo, evidently printed in these very offices. This must be a government funded initiative I think to myself, the magazine probably isn't such a lucrative endeavor and everyone appears so serious. Finally a man of middle age in a button-up shirt and tie approaches. I introduce myself as a bicycle enthusiast who plans on touring the islands of Japan, but I will be in Tokyo for a week and I am interested in exploring bike culture in the city. I ask him if there are any not-for-profit bike collectives where I can work on my bike. He has never heard of such a thing but loves the concept. He asks what's wrong with my bike. That wasn't the reason for my inquiry, but I tell him my rear wheel is untrue. He excuses himself and quickly returns with another man, also of middle age, he has receding gray hair and is in similar getup. He has in his hand a spoke wrench and is resolved to help me true my wheel right then and there. We take the elevator downstairs to the parking lot and sure enough, in two minutes time my wheel is as good as new. I give both men my thanks and bid them farewell. Next stop, Y's World Bike shop to pick up some needed supplies before my tour of greater Japan.

After a productive shopping spree, albiet an expensive one, I'm standing outside the bike shop consulting my guide book when I am approached by a young lady who offers her assistance. I tell her I'm looking for a cheap place for dinner. Although her English is excellent, she is offers to show me the way. We ride swiftly down a series of narrow streets filled with discos and bars. "This is Tokyo's gay quarter," she informs me; and sure enough I begin to notice the rainbow flags decorating the bar's facades. There is more life in this part of town than anywhere I've yet experienced in Tokyo: music and chatter spill out from the establishments and fill the narrow streets with jubilant sound. We soon arrive at another cluster of bars less colorful than those that preceded them. "You should be able to find something here that meets your budget," she says and begins to make her departure. Without hesitation, I ask her, before she leaves me standing there alone on the corner, if she would like to join me for dinner. Next thing I know I'm in a cramped and smoke-filled room eating an assortment of delectable Japanese tapas in the company of a good looking and articulate young woman of 30, by the name of Mitchi; and it's a good thing too, because I wouldn't have had the slightest notion of what to order in this non-English speaking hole-in-the-wall; Mitchi took care of everything. After dinner we head to another bar not far from her home in Shinjuku and it is there we spend the remainder of the evening; I drink drought beers and Mitchi drinks spamonis. Mitchi lived in California for one year on exchange with UC and it is for that reason she speaks such good English. Currently she works in the programming department of a major Japanese television network. I share with her my diary from India and before the night is over I've made my first friend in Tokyo. It is 2 in the morning when we leave the bar and Michi shows me the way to a park where I will spend the night.

Tokyo is antithesis to Delhi!

I arrive in Tokyo early Thursday morning fatigued - far too excited to sleep on the plane. My
first glimpses of Japan filter through a semi-conscious haze as I drift in and out of sleep: a
blur of neon green tree tops and tile roofs, a spectrum of colors fly past the windows of the
Airport express. Although it doesn't register until later, my initial insights into Japanese culture
also come to me on that same train ride from Nayana Airport to metropolitan Tokyo. I am a
sight for sore eyes: seated on the train's bench, hunched over, my head rolling back and forth
chin upon my chest, my bike box half beside me half in the isle; I'm still sporting the same
scuffed leather trainers and torn black tshirt that I've worn for two months now, which, despite
the temperature controlled corridors of the airport and metro, is soaked in sweat from lugging
my gear and bike box - an arduos task, requiring a balancing act, evidenced by the red marks
on my ear and shoulder. Imagine my sorry state juxtaposed with a spotless state-of-the art
train of which Japanese engineers are famous and it is crammed with suits, men and women
on their way to work; they shuffle past me as the train snakes through Tokyo at lightening
speed, making its consecutive stops with reptilic agility sans the slightest jolt. Despite my
incongruous appearance I am so throroughly ignored I wonder if I hadn't left my physical body
in Delhi and arrived in Japan an apparition. Only the conspicuousness of a cumbersome bike
box disproves this theory - it impedes the otherwise orderly files of Japanese commuters
making their way on and off the train. And then, it occurs to me, even in my incongnazance,
that everyone is totally and completely silent. I hear only the sound of the electric locomotive,
barely audible through its air-tight windows. How to describe this attribute of humans
acculturated in the anomaly that is the Japanese archpelago? "Quiet" is a vague discriptor,
but words such as serine, quiescent, tranquil, or even placid might be unfair critiques and it is
still to early for me to make any such general statements.

If I might be allowed one more observation, likely already implied by my earlier
musings: "Ordeliness" and the perhaps unfair implications that might be made by
its synonyms: acquiecense, conformity, homogeneity, etc. These might be my own
premisconceptions of Japan and its people, however, after arriving from the land of chaos
that is India, these attributes of the Japanese seem all the more striking. For example, in the
Tokyo metro people wait patiently for passengers to exit before boarding the train! A culture
shock in comparison with the fierce battle that is required boarding and deboarding a train
in Delhi. I've only been in Japan less than 2 hours and it is already evident that Tokyo is
antithesis to Delhi and I welcome the change of pace.

My head drops abruptly and I awake just in time to see the word Asakusa, my station stop,
make its way across the digital display located above the now opening double doors- I barely
make it off in time. As I leave subterranean world of the metro I soon find my self on the
corner of a busy intersection. Once again I am awestruck by this vacuum of sound that is
Tokyo! Larger than the city of NY and traffic is in full tilt, yet not a single honk can be heard. I
breath deeply. Ahhh, the air is so clean compared with Delhi; am I indeed in a city of more
than 12 million people? There is not even any litter on the streets. Why are some people
wearing respirators? I feel a tinge of regret for leaving my bike box stuffed in a corner on the
platform where I assembled my cycle, but repentance is not my strong suit and my attention
wonders elsewhere. Head-turning-tale, like a whirrling dirvish in slow motion, I scan the
horrizon. The metrostop for Asakusa sits along the Sumida River. A small bridge of art
nouveau design is painted lacquer red. A cluster of buildings on the opposite bank
immediately catch my eye and I stop for a moment to reflect upon them. Balancing upon a
squat building as if ready to fly into the air is a gigantic golden sperm! Bewildered, I stop to
reflect upon this grotesque architectural wonder and I fail to notice I'm standing in a cross
walk and the light has changed colors. I am nearly run over by a young man in a Japanese
folk costume pulling a rickshaw. To my amazement he is on foot and like a beast of burden
he is pulling a carriage loaded with two passengers. His black short-shorts and white three-
quarter button down shirt reveal muscular legs and arms, the skin of which has been
darkened by the sun and is glistening with sweat. Never before have I seen such a thing - but
I'm certainly intrigued. This young man shall most definitely be included in my first sketches of
Japan, with the gigantic sperm for a backdrop!

It's been a long day and I'm still on Delhi time. After three attempts I find a vacant dormitory
in a hostel for ¥ 3000 (about $39)! There is no possible way I can afford travel in Japan for
2 months if I am paying so much just for a place to rest my head. I am resolved to sleep on
the streets rather than spend that kind of money for something as inconsequential as a bed
with clean sheets. Tonight I'll have to fork over the money while I get my bearings. I ask the
young man at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation. He sends me to Rihei, a ramen
shop on Kaminarimon-dori. I enter the restaurant and a homely lady with a mid-length salt
and pepper coiffure ushers me to a vending machine with an assortment of buttons adorned
in Japanese characters. I am obviously dumbfounded and with broken English she helps
me to choose my soup; afterwhich I enter money into the machine and it spits out a ticket to
be snatched by the lady proprietor who then ushers me to my seat. The soup arrives a few
minutes later - the noodles served separate. Never before had I tasted such good noodles
and the broth, so full of flavor! the pork is cooked to such perfection it barely stays together on
my chopsticks. I am reminded of the Japanese "noodle-western" Tampopo: in the openning
scene the old man teaches his disciple how to properly eat a bowl of ramen and the young
man is instructed to meditate upon his soup before taking the first bite, giving thanks to the
meat and vegetables that gave their lives for human sustenance. I rejoice at the fact that I am
in the country in which this great noodle movie was made. And how much did I pay for this
dilectable treat? ¥18000 ($23.40). I am again reconfirmed in my intentions of finding alternative
accommodations, especially if I am to properly explore the gastronomic wonders of Japan.