After doing my best to sleep on the plane, I landed in my first Japanese Afternoon barely lucid and quite dizzy. It was Friday the 21st of June. I needed money, I needed a Train Ticket, but first, I needed to stand in 2 hours of Immigration Lines. I read my entire first volume of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, and an American Football Player behind me said, "Fullmetal? I seen that on Cartoon Network." It was the last terrible Anime conversation I’d have for nine days. Soon after, I hopped onto the Tokyo-bound Keisei Line. It’s an 80 minute trip on the Metro to Tokyo, and I was humbly aware of the size of my suitcase. I should have packed less. Especially since I arrived during rush hour.
However, while waiting for the train to leave the station, I asked a Japanese woman sitting across from me, "Sono densha wa ... Keisei Ueno desuka?" She was so delighted that I spoke Japanese that she came across to sit with me and give me a much-needed refresher course in Nihongo ... since much of my words and sentence structures had been clipped with Dutch. Her name was Tamimi, she gave me her phone number in case I needed anything while I was in Japan. This was my introduction to the legendary Japanese Politeness. I told her I would call only if I was in Jail or had Won A Lot of Money.
A stranger who trusts you really teaches you about your personal boundaries. This was something that I dealt with a lot over the course of the trip.
The train filled up with people as I got closer to Ueno station, and soon I had given up my seat to sit on my Suitcase and take up less floor space. Transferred without a problem, navigated with Japanese/English guideposts all the way to my small hotel in Minowa, used my Playstation Portable as a PDA -- I had downloaded the area maps that morning, since I had no access to a printer. Finally, I found the opaque glass exterior of my hotel.
I stayed at the Andon Ryokan. It was like renting a family. The staff were friends with each other, and anxious to make new friends with the guests. Being straight forward with my interest in Japan ("I’m into Anime") meant to them that I was harmless and quirky. They laughed with me when I wore cosplay headbands to breakfast, and helped me translate the instructions on my Fullmetal Alchemist Pocketwatch. Andon makes good "Cinnamon Set" French toast. And the coffee and tea is free.
My room was on the first floor, next to the lobby. No natural light, and only a floor lamp to make it brighter. Next time, I’m requesting a 2nd Floor Room. The rooms at Andon are the smallest legal size for a hotel, but the design of the building is modern and unique, making it seem more like a walk-in art project than a pseudo-hostel.
After a shower (my room was across from the Shower and Computer, so I was always running into people in my Pajamas ... thank GOD I bought new slippers), I went out to get some Udon.
The Udon was amazing and cheap. My Japanese was coming back faster now, and I grabbed the newspaper to scan the Katakana. Seeing a Gaijin grab a Japanese paper was a shock to the staff, and they called out "Eeeehhhh? Yomimasuka?" when I asked if it was ok for me to borrow it. Now I was friends with the waitress, apparently. She told me in rapid Japanese that she was friends with everyone in the neighborhood and I should drop by again tomorrow. I ordered some hot sake (Sake, Atsui ... Onegaishimasu~), and began to read the paper.
To my surprise, the first page had a picture of the Grove Theater Los Angeles from the previous night. It was an article about the opening of Star Wars, where I had been the evening before. I was so thrilled that I showed it off to the staff, and soon all of the locals were gathered around the article at my table, searching for my face in the crowd.
After dinner, I wandered around in the cool early evening, thinking about how Minowa felt so sickeningly familiar. It was not the culture-shock I was expecting; it was more like I was visiting somewhere I’d lived before. I poked my head in a pachinko parlor, I went to the 7-11 and purchased the best pen I’d ever held. The brands on the shelves were all things I’d seen in Little Tokyo LA, and the food was all stuff I’d tried before. Except now it wasn’t a special, expensive import collectable. I didn’t need to clutch my canned coffee with both hands -- I could just pick it up from any store and chug it on my way down the street. At every convenience store was a rack of my favorite vitamin Jelly drink In. I had seen a character drink one in FLCL, and tried it years earlier in Los Angeles. Now, staring up at the glowing shelf in awe, I realized: I could eat/drink In whenever I wanted. And they had more flavors here.
Back a the hotel, I crashed on my floor-mat with the Television on. There was no anime that night, but there were countless well-produced and cheerful commercials. Beat Takashi, star of Zatoichi and Battle Royale, was on a guessing-game-show. I fell asleep staring at his dyed blond hair.