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.

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