My dream in life had always been to go to America. I’m going way back here to when I was a teenager, something that I didn’t think that I would ever be able to do, but in 1985 I managed to live my dream at the age of 22. Two years later I packed a backpack for another 6 month working trip in the States and this time I never left. At 24 years old I had made my dream come true, not only that but I had emigrated to the United States from England.
I’m a lover of the world, different cultures, different history, different people, but I will have to be honest with you, Japan stood out no more than any other country did, it was just another country out of 50 I would have liked to have gone to. In fact if the truth be known, it was perhaps a little lower on the list because it was something that didn’t seem obtainable being that it was so far away.
When the world cup soccer tournament is on you will be hard pressed to find someone as fanatical as me, I pretty much watch every single game whether live or on tape delay. During the world cup in South Africa the Japanese lost to Paraguay on penalties in the round of 16, what happened immediately afterwards drew me instantly to Japan.
As a football fan, especially an Englishman, I know what it is like to lose on penalties. During the post-game wrap up the cameras went into what was left of the crowd, specifically the Japanese fans who remained. The Japanese fans who had remained had pulled out the bags they had brought with them and they started to clean the trash in the stadium. As a lifelong football fan I had never seen anything like this and I was stunned at the kind gesture. It was 2010 and that one gesture turned my attention to Japanese culture and I started to learn about it. Pretty soon thereafter I had another dream in my life, to one day go to Japan.
Early last year I tried to convince my brother to join me on the trip from England, we had already started to plan various trips around the world and Japan was at the top of my list. My brother had no desire to go there though which really pissed me off, lol. Eventually I was able to persuade him to come with me to Japan in 2019 to see the rugby world cup, that really got his interest right up. As you are all aware by now though, my brother died a few months later after we had made those plans.
It’s now been over a year since he died and it is still as painful today as it was back then, I’m not ashamed to admit it that I get depressed frequently over his loss, it is the hardest thing that I have ever had to deal with and it hasn’t got any easier as of yet. There is mostly frustration because we would send each other funny quips and anecdotes every day, and now when one comes up I am stuck with it, I have nobody to share it with. In fact there is a Youtube clip that came out after he had died that would have been something that the two of us would have used for the rest of our days. It would make no sense to anyone, the sentence and the gesture that accompanied it was “How can that, THAT, be that”? But we would have applied that sentence in a hundred different scenarios and laughed our socks off every time. It is so frustrating.
Having experienced the deaths of all of my family now I understand the importance of carrying on. Nothing you can do can change what has happened, you have to keep going forward. A wise man once said to me when my other brother passed away and I didn’t think that I could attend an event. He said to me “You can be sad at home, or you can be sad at the wedding”. He was right, nothing was going to take away from the sadness, you have to keep pushing forward.
Now while my plan was to go to Japan with my brother in 2019, even if he hadn’t have passed away I knew that I was still going to go in 2018 regardless, the urge was too strong and there was so much that I wanted to see and do myself other than watching rugby matches. So once I got back to New York from England after my brothers funeral I started my plans to go to Japan by the end of 2018. It was actually good therapy to have something to look forward to. There were other events that had made me feel a bit bitter on a more personal level, but then you also have to understand that not everyone realizes what you might be dealing with at any given moment. You can only control how you handle things, you can’t control the expectations of others.
My first port of call before I made any travel arrangements was to wait for my favorite Japanese band to release their winter schedule. Now I’m not saying that I went to Japan JUST to see them, but my entire trip was planned around when they were playing. It would take me two pages to explain the Japanese ticketing system, in a condensed form it goes as such. Tickets first go to premium fan club members, then from there it goes down in tiers until any tickets that are left, if there are any, go on general sale. The band that I wanted to see have a passionate fan base and they sell out every show. This was going to be tricky.
Ticket reselling in Japan is hard enough to start with, and as a foreigner it is virtually impossible to obtain tickets as you have to have a Japanese address. There was a contact that I had heard about and after I wrote to the guy he assured me that it will be no problem getting the tickets. Here was the deal though, I had to pay him like $265 in total for a ticket to each of two shows. That was about double the face value per ticket but it was a once in a lifetime chance to see a band that I was never likely to see again. So think about it, I have to send a guy I don’t know in Japan $265, and the tickets are not sent to the owner until a week before the show. That means I won’t even get the tickets until a day or two before the show when I am already in Japan.
It didn’t take me long to work out that my trip itself was going to cost about $3,200 for the flight and hotel, so what was another $265? I sent the guy the money, he replied to me the next day and said that he had secured the tickets for me. The people who had bought the individual tickets were not going to get them until a week before each show so I was clueless as to where I would be sat.
More about the band later but to finish this portion off, not only was the guy who I sent the money to honest and honorable, he even translated the tickets for me and provided me with a note in Japanese on the off chance that security had questions regarding my purchase of the ticket. The note basically said that I was a business colleague and he had purchased a ticket for me, and would they kindly allow me in to enjoy the show. Yes, I paid double the face value, but to say that I got value for money would be an understatement. And the two tickets that I got, for the first show I was in the 13th row and the second show the 21st row, that’s just amazing luck.
So now I have my concert tickets ordered, I booked the time off work and then made my booking plans. I was fortunate enough with Japan Airlines that I caught them at a good time, I was expecting to pay around $1,700 for the round trip ticket but I was able to book one for $1,200, so my total cost for the trip was now $2,700 for the flight and hotel for two weeks. All I have to worry about now prior to my two week vacation was a 14 hour 30 minute flight, about twice the distance that I have ever flown before.
The flight itself was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, the JAL planes are awesome and I had loaded my iPad up with David Attenborough nature shows. I also watched an awesome Japanese film called ‘One cut of the dead’. If you get a chance to watch it, it is hysterical and it made one thousand times its budget at the Japanese box office. I’m not going to lie though, 12 hours into the flight and I was totally pissed off and bored senseless. The last two and a half hours dragged like crazy.
So now the fun begins, I’ve arrived in Tokyo, I don’t speak the language and I have to make my way to the other side of the city to my hotel having travelled 6,700 miles. It was such a thrilling moment, a combination of excitement and anxiety at the situation I had put myself in.
Now you have to picture me, my head is completely shaven, I have a white goatee the size of an average Japanese person’s face, tattoos all up my arms and I’m about twice the size of your average Japanese person. Airport security didn’t miss me, lol. After I retrieved my bag I was politely pulled aside to be questioned and have my luggage searched. I was slightly irked because I felt I was targeted based on my appearance, but at the same time I am going to be super polite because I have only just arrived on my dream trip.
So now I have gone through immigration, and this is it ladies and gentleman, I am on my own in a foreign country and I don’t speak the language other than a complimentary amount of polite greetings.
The train station is right in the airport so it couldn’t be easier to be honest with you, and there is even a handy smoking room in the airport for those of us who partake in that activity. Still, I have to get on three trains to get to my hotel and it is rush hour. Train one is going to take me into Tokyo, train 2 is going to take me to the main hub where I will get train three for a short ride to the hotel. Did I mention yet that it is rush hour? Perhaps now would also be a good time to let you know that train 2 is taking me to Shinjuku Station, the busiest train station in the world, and I’m going there during rush hour. I think you can see where this is going.
The first subway ride wasn’t so bad, though it was packed by the time I got to where I needed to be. As it is an airport line they make it super easy for you, they pretty much know everyone is transferring to the Yamanote line so the directions are a breeze. So now all I need to do is get to Shinjuku for my last train and I am heading in the right direction, bonus.
Now, have you ever seen those videos where hordes of people are pushed onto Japanese subway cars? I’m heading to the busiest train station in the world and it is rush hour. I can’t really call it a mistake because my alternatives were very limited, I couldn’t control what time the plane got in and I couldn’t control where my hotel was situated, but fuck me dead, you can bet your bottom dollar when I return to Japan later this year I will not be taking this route the second go around!! I’m stifling hot, tired, and anxious and I have a large luggage bag with me, and now it seems like half of Tokyo is trying to pile into the subway car that I am in. It was the absolute worst.
When I got to Shinjuku all I needed to do was find the last subway line. Now I had heard that if you are a foreigner in Japan and you look lost, people there are so kind that they will go out of their way to help you. I’m in Shinjuku station for 20 minutes clueless, as lost as a man could possibly be, and not a single person stopped to assist me, not one, lol. I found one sign pointing in the direction of the train I needed, but it went to a dead end.
Now from here I could walk to the hotel, but it is dark outside and I only really had a general direction as to where to head to. It just seemed logical that my wisest choice was to find the subway. So I did the walk again trying to find out where this sign went, and as usual it would take me to a wall where the same sign is pointing me to go back to where I came from, it was like I was living Midnight Express in person. There was an escalator there going to a different platform but there was no sign for the train I wanted.
Now the train I wanted wasn’t listed on this escalator, but there was nowhere else to go, so after three trips back and forth I decided to go down it. Once I got down a level all had become clear, the sign on the wall that was an arced arrow telling you to go the other direction, was actually an arrow telling you to take the escalator, other than the fact that in reality it told you jack shit, I just lucked out and used my instinct after 20 minutes. Once I went down a level I was able to find an elevator that told me that I needed to go down 4 more levels to get to the train that I wanted. Finally, I am getting somewhere. By the time that I got to the hotel I was dog tired and now I have to wait in line. I tried my best to communicate with the little Japanese that I had, but for the most part we both used signs and gestures but before you know it I had arrived in my room, I considered it a big achievement to get there using local transport.
I’m guessing that it was somewhere around 7pm that I arrived at the hotel, which in my terms was 5am. I had left New York at Noon on Thursday on a 14h 30m flight, then on top of that there was a 14 hour time difference, so we are now talking 7pm on Friday evening. It’s important to note though because I’m at the stage of getting ready to sleep and it is already evening time, that if I can just hold out for two or three hours then the chances of Jetlag hitting me I felt would be pretty slim.
There was a 7-11 just a few stores away as well as a Family Mart, two convenience stores that I came to learn were perhaps the most important part of my trip. The food in these places is high quality, you can make yourself a nice cheap meal easily for under ten bucks. It is kind of essential if you are going to be there for a couple of weeks to at least have breakfast and lunch from these stores. At this stage of the night though I desperately wanted a coffee and perhaps some yoghurt. This was the first problem that I encountered.
The coffee machine!! Simple enough to operate, and even with limited Japanese I was able to get a cup from behind the counter. What I wasn’t able to convey was that I wanted a cup, not one of these little Dixie cup things you are giving me. The 7-11 has two cup sizes, which were either 6oz or 8oz, or maybe they were 8oz and 10oz. Either way, I start my day with 16oz right off the bat without even blinking an eye. This is going to be a problem. Within a couple of days I was able to locate a coffee shop, and even though it was five bucks for a 16oz cup, it was still better than the 7-11 coffee.
I’m not going to talk much about the food in Japan in this post, but let me tell you that it will bring tears to your eyes. Even a simple coffee shop has pastries that will make saliva come from your mouth. It almost feels like I could say that you could go to Japan simply for the food alone, it is so delicious in every aspect. Now I knew when I went to Japan that the first couple of days were going to be quiet. There were club shows that I had planned for Saturday and Sunday nights, so as I am an old man now I decided to do local things on those two days as I felt sure that I was going to need naps during those days. On the Saturday morning I was up super early, around 5am or so, and my first tourist experience was going to be a shrine that was literally about a 100m from the hotel. That post will be up soon.