Monday, July 31, 2006

Lost in Tokyo.

I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday after a relatively comfortable and semi-empty 13-hour flight. I'm holed up on the 11th floor of a hotel located in one of the or 6 mini-cities that make up Tokyo proper called Ikebukuro. It's mellow here in the somewhat suburban northwest section of this sprawling city and there's a university nearby, which means lots of cheap eats, a good English bookstore and the ubiquitous Irish bar or two, at least according to the guidebooks. I'm pleased to be somewhere I can slowly acclimate. The main attraction is that Ikebukuro is only 7 stops away via two subways from the printing plant where I will be spending my days press checking Visionaire 49. The hotel is fine -- it has kind of a generic Sheraton vibe with several restaurants, a swimming pool and helpful English-speaking staff. My smallish room for the next two weeks was thoughtfully positioned at the very end of the hall, and is decorated in an odd but somewhat comforting 80s fashion with a great southern view of the rest of the city.

My first day in Asia was overwhelming. Nothing strips you down like being unable to understand anything in order to process your new surroundings. Going to dinner was an experience in itself, as being forced to use signals to indicate what you want to eat leaves you with few choices, and absolutely no idea how to get the check. Its good I eat almost anything and am familiar with most Japanese food names (at least if they are printed in English...kanji characters, forget about it). I figure I can eat sushi everyday until I figure out what I want next.

Thank god English is the second most common language here with all signs for the subway, buses, major streets etc also given in English. And most fortunately, the Japanese people are patient with my questions and cluelessness. My sporadic escorts (Visionaire's distibutor in Asia and the various gentlemen of Toppan Printing, several of whom have lived in NYC and worked at the same Toppan office I worked at back in 1997) have done much to smooth my way. Their unspoken kindnesses are continually surprising, including a gift today of Time Out's Tokyo guide from one of the guys who can't even speak to me. If I were in America, I might think that I was being snickered at behind my back for my constant confusion. That may be the case, but I don't catch even a of whiff of patronization and instead only see attempts to make me comfortable. I do catch stares from people on the street -- although it's not hostile -- perhaps only curiousity about a 6-foot tall white girl wandering around like a deer in headlights, picking up packages of cookies and snacks in the 7-11 staring at them like she's on acid trying to figure out what's inside. Invisible I'm not.

As much as I would like to communicate, the only Japanese I can consistently remember beyond the names of sushi is "Domo Arigato". And that's because of Styx. I wonder what "Mr. Roboto" means in Japanese.

The jetleg is slamming me tonight, so proper exploration of Ikebukuro (and the rest of Tokyo) will have to begin on another day.

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