Sunday, March 3, 2002 1:20 PM
A man approaches the Customs gate. He shows his passport to the guard. The guard looks at the passport, looks at the man, then signals to some other guards. The guards lead the man away and take him into room. The sign on the door says "No Entry". No-one is surprised.
A man waits in the queue to pass through Customs. He's wearing old jeans, big black boots, and a heavy jacket. He needs a shave and he's carrying only a sports bag. He's experiencing tremors and nodding off where's he standing. He shuffles instead of walking normally. No-one stands behind him. He approaches the Customs gate.
A man approaches the Customs area. He's been awake for most of 22 hours and in an aeroplane for 14 of those. He hasn't eaten for several hours and can't eat until after he has slept. He has nothing to declare so we walks the length of the Customs area looking for a queue that isn't marked "Duty Free". He doesn't find one so he walks back to find a short queue. He has now the full attention of the Customs guards, but he hasn't noticed yet. He joins a queue.
"Welcome to Japan. Please follow me". The guard signals to someone behind me. I turn around and there are several guards behind me. I follow the first guard into a small room. The other guards crowd in. "Please remove your jacket and empty your pockets" "May I search you?" "May I look in your bag?". At least they're polite. Everything I'm carring is placed on the desk. "How long are you staying in Japan?". He looks meaningfully at my bag. I travel light. "Where are you staying?" "Do you know anyone in Japan?" "Who do you work for?" "Do you have any other identification?"
Eventually, they let me go. On the way out, one guard asked me if I would ever return to Japan. I assured him that I would - this kind of thing happens to me at most airports.
There's a popular drink here that is carbonated water and tastes like lemons. The colour is like fat-reduced milk (a translucent white). The name is... Calpis Water. That would be fine, except for a few things: a) it's usually abbreviated to "Calpis"; b) the "s" sounds like "s" instead of "z"; and c) if I pronounce it as I see it, then "Cal" sounds like "Cow". So there's a popular drink here whose name sounds like "Cow piss". When a Japanese person pronounces it, it sounds to me like "Carlapisu", but that's not funny. There's another drink here whose name is "Pocali Sweat". I don't care what a Pocali is, I'm not going to drink it. Shampoo doesn't smell like the real thing, but I know which one I'd rather use. ;-) Apparently, when these products are sold outside of Japan, they are renamed to 'Calpico' and 'Pocali'.
Tokyo's design interferes with my (already poor) sense of direction. In Reykjavík, I had no trouble because even if I walked for 10 kilometres in several directions, I could still see Hallgrimskirkja, and know how to get back. In Tokyo, with its many tall buildings that form a kind of canopy over narrow streets (imagine a concrete jungle beneath a steel sky), my 40 storey hotel can be hard to see from the next block.
We went to a games arcade. It's not far from my hotel, but it's like travelling to another world. The few blocks surrounding my hotel are not very crowded, but around one corner is an intersection at which, at any time during the evening, there are more people just waiting to cross the road than all the people who crowd into Laugavegur on Christmas Eve. It's recommended that you walk in the same direction as the crowd on the same side of the road, otherwise in the most unlikely event that you emerge unscathed, you will have been the cause of considerable scathe in other people.
Typing games are very popular in Japan. Moto and Aya played "The Typing of the Dead" - kill zombies by typing the words that appear on the screen. Educational AND fun! :-) A lot of the games are marked "Not for export", which is a shame - so many things that we don't know exist if we don't visit. Though, if we did know that they exist (because they were exported), then we might not visit. However, if we don't know that we don't know, then we won't know that we have to go. To know. Hmm.
Kaoru and I had lunch in a place that has hotplates in the middle of the tables. The idea is that you make your own omelette from the ingredients that you buy there. Kaoru's omelette was perfectly round. Mine... wasn't. There's an art to making them and an art to eating them (with chopsticks). At least I'm competent in one of those.
I visited Akihabara (electric town). The entire town is devoted to the sale of electronic products (televisions, computers, video players, mobile phones, etc). If it's new, then it's here and on the main street. If it's old, then it's (ahem) probably here (in one of the back streets - $5, no box). It seems that devices become smaller and smaller but with more and more features, and Akihabara is the place where you'll see them first.
The mobile phone that I have here can receive e-mail and browse web sites. It also receives an average of 10 spam messages every 24 hours. The problem is that they arrive usually in the middle of the night. I can't switch off the phone in case the company needs to contact me, so I'll just have to live with being woken at 3am by a message that I can't even read. :-) I'm going back to Australia soon. That's the solution.
Copyright (c) 2002 Peter Ferrie
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