written by Scott
Day 9 of the trip has been quiet so far. We got up. Had breakfast. Packed. Checked out. Waited for bus. Waited for shinkansen train. We figured out that we can get off one stop early to avoid half of our subway trip through Tokyo, and we should therefore be able to check in around when we thought despite an error in reading the train timetables that set us back a half-hour. I'm still nervous about lugging our bags through the subway, but given everything I've heard, more nervous about the confusion and hassle than security. I am already good enough at keeping my eyes open.
Much of today has therefore been reading-- reading up on Ueno, the district our shinkansen will get into, and Asakusa, the district we'll be staying in.
The evening was quiet as well, but not without its high points. We got into the Taito Ryokan around 15:00. They came and picked us up at the station despite the fact that Alison's 10¥ coin only bought about 10 seconds of call time to the cell phone at the other end. So they probably heard "Hi, this is Alison Wilgus, I'm staying at your ryokan. I'm at the station..." Fortunately they intuited that we meant the Tawaramachi subway station, not Tokyo rail station.
The ryokan is ... very different from the ones that we have been staying at. It's more hostel in feel. There are people from all over the place-- a bunch of 20-something Italians across the hall, various pairs of 20-something women of unknown origin, another American couple at the other end of our floor. It's cheap, and it shows. No meal options. Very basic futons, and only a single cushion, thin mismatched sheets and sketchy comforters. Alison would prefer that I say old rather than sketchy, but I'm going to be snooty. The rooms are spare, with nothing more than a space heater and hangers that you hook over a nook in the wall. It doesn't feel dangerous, or particularly bad (though I could have used fewer drafts as I sleep). It's just the other end of the spectrum from the ryokan we stayed at the first night. But, as a result, it perhaps also gives us a better feel for what less affluent homes are like.
We set our stuff down, decompressed, and went out to do laundry. That was an experience. A public laundromat was right down the street in a back alley (and beside a public bath), and though I had qualms about leaving our stuff there, it seemed safe enough-- everyone else had, in some cases past when it was done. Admission: that was my first time ever doing laundry in a public laundromat. *ducks* I've always been somewhere that had laundry in the building, though I have no idea how I've been that lucky.
We ducked out during the wash cycle, then, and wandered the neighborhood and through the shopping arcade (The Rox shopping arcade). Alison tried UFO Catcher, pronounced "Oofoe", and we both played Taiko Drummer on a station that was "50% off!"... perhaps because it only seemed to register about 60% of your beats when things got going. The definite highlight of the laundry experience was the tiny (4'8" at best) old woman wearing a shawl and a plastic tiara with giant pink plastic gemstones in it. Later in the evening she was almost matched by a very grandmotherly type in a kimono and shawl with bright pink hair. Tokyo's culture clashes at every level and in wonderful ways. We went to check out a slightly seedier-looking video game parlor during the dry cycle, and the trip resulted in some musings about Japanese Gaming Parlor culture. After we took the laundry back, we hopped on the internet in the ryokan for 10¥ a minute (ouch!), did the necessities like paying rent, and then got advice on dinner.
Dinner was awesome, though Ali had to talk me into it at first. It was okonomiyaki, at Sometaro, and as in Nara it was made at the table, but... here you made it yourself! It's a great business model, and the japanese seem to not mind that you're basically just paying someone to cut your vegetables and meat for you. They gave us bowls with all the ingredients, and we mixed, poured, flipped, sauced, and ate them. We had saké and [______], which I call "the bubble gum drink", for about 2,000¥
After dinner we walked around and discovered that while Kansai doesn't seem to have homeless people, Tokyo does, and they're creepy. There was a woman (?) standing in an alley with a winter hat pulled down over her face. People trying to look busy in parks, but always watching you... no one begging, though.
After that and two short games of [Chez Geek], we were ready to settle in for a long, hard night in a cheap ryokan.
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