Arigato, But No Thanks


"Here I am, all set for this amazing trip", I thought. It was a long haul flight, and not being a keen flyer. I thought paying a little more for more comfort was ideal. I ate, drank, watched movies slept in an individual seat compartment. With business men beside men in other seats. The amazing journey had begun. I simply could not wait.
It was a few months after mum had passed away and a few months before my Twenty Second birthday. I had traveled a lot throughout Europe with my parents in my younger years, but never so far and least alone. As i nodded of i was reading all about this amazing language and its culture.
Just before landing at: Narita Airport. I revised my bite-size Japanese phrases especially the polite expressions as i knew how important it was in Japan. Arigato I muttered to myself. Konishuwa. A easy language to learn i must admit. Very Phonetic.
On arrival i noticed that we were only about three to five Caucasians on the whole Boeing All Nipon Airways flight. As we all approached the immigration section, we had to fill out landing cards and i noticed one guy was wearing a U.S. Army suit and i heard an Australian accent from another person.
No questions asked just a few stamps and off i went into the airport. Empty and very clean were my first observations. I changed my money and of i went to the trains for connecting me to Toyko. I fell asleep and woke up in a place near a city called Yokohama. I had past my stop but got out and viewed the Amazing Architecture. Big Huge Modern Glassed Buildings, next to a sort of river.
It was hot, very very humid. I started to sweat instantly. I was jet lagged and thirsty. Thank God I had eaten a lot on plane, i pondered to myself. As there was not one single restaurant or bar in site open anywhere. I waited for a few hours for a connecting train and was on my way to my destination of Tokyo.
Out of the window i saw lots of little houses, with telephone wires crossing from street to street, house to house. Bikes everywhere. And cars that looked like square boxes. Tiny cars even. Like mini camper vans. I also saw a lot of stray dogs and people sitting on street curbs alone. Inside there was a lot of people either asleep or using mobile phones and playing PSP devices.
On arrival in Tokyo i arrived at a station which i did not even catch the name of but could not see, with the amount of people rushing around everywhere. Complete madness. People from all different ages walking in all different directions. As i exited the main entrance i noticed shops with displays outside their shops with products without any kind of security. Not even guards at the shops themselves. The lights from the electronic banners and advertisements on sides of buildings. Looked so fantastic. Food displays made out of plastic in the windows of restaurants, young people with bright hair and eccentric fashion styles also struck as quite odd but equally interesting. Cigarette and soft drink machines on pavements on just about each part of a street. Culture Shock! I thought. Amazing.
I remember walking along a street completely lost, and finding a New York style cab. It was yellow with green lines if i remember correctly. Advertising Coca Cola on its door. I got in and asked for my hotel. He did not speak a word of English. Despite the fact i had an internet print out in both Japanese and English. He eventually drove and took me to my hotel.
As i entered, it was like an entrance to an office. Not the kind of hotels i have been accustomed to when traveling with my parents through Europe as a child. A man quickly attended me and kept hold of my passport and flight tickets and took me to my room. He tried his best to speak English, but would not stop mentioning David Beckham. And even asked me if i knew him?
As i entered my room, i was lost for words, to be honest it looked more like a laundry room, with washing machines stacked up one on top of another. Yes you guessed right, It was a capsule hotel. Very common in Japan. Each bed had like a door at the front with a little ladder to enter it. A cross between a bunk bed and one of them beds you find in night trains across the alps in south of France. I was now feeling very odd. But tired as i was. I fell asleep.
The next day another man knocked on my door entrance and said "get up, come on get up". I was confused as it was only about 7 in the morning local time. He then ordered me to leave the hotel. And i distinctively remember him saying: "no here sleeping, emergency you not understand here" I realized he meant if there was an emergency i would not understand and even sleep through it. So i got my luggage and left. Having already paid though in advance for the nights i was supposed to be there.
I began walking again, the streets of Tokyo. I started running out of money. I ate from street stalls. And in fast food places, until disaster struck. Money was running out and fast. I could not find a place to stay. At first i stayed about 3 nights in a 24 hour internet cafe, where a one night deal included watching movies and playing PS3 games all night as well as using internet. I spoke to a friend back home to try and receive a Western Union money transfer, only to be refused for not having a permanent address in Tokyo. Hotels denied me because i had no credit card or previous reservation. One guy even offered me a room if i helped in kitchen for no pay. I decided to beg. It was only option left. I could not reach my father in UK because the phone boxes had a strange system to call. I had no idea what to do. I wrote on a piece of card i found: [Konishuwa, I am from United Kingdom, i have no home or food, please help. Arigato]. One day i spent a whole day on a circular tube line, sleeping. At one moment i even forgot my bag and got of train without it. And to my surprise when the train eventually came back. My bag was still there. No body helped. Until a young couple one day gave me a McDonald's meal and gave me a church address. They were kind yet not caring. Hard to describe. They showed me a park where Japanese homeless people lived, in giant tents owned by local council to home individuals with no houses. Quite extraordinary really. A man there one day approached me and said "take my motor" referring to his bike. "go no America here". He was extremely rude and aggressive yet he was also offering me his bike. I was so confused. "Arigato, but no thanks" i said. I think he only understood Arigato. I remember leaving my suitcase in his tent without thinking and riding of. I remember riding next to a temple. A traditional building and there was a river beside it covered in turtles swimming about. When i returned at night. My luggage was still there. I returned the bike, and ventured elsewhere.

P A Perez

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