Published: August 30th 2006August 30th 2006
Bike parking at Fukushima Station at 6am. It actually gets more crowded than this.
No, I didn't fall asleep in a morgue or take a rest in a mausoleum. I spent the night at a capsule hotel in Tokyo, but more on that in a bit.
In an attempt to ready myself for my trip to Hong Kong this weekend, Eve and I decided to make the trip over to Yokohama- Japan's 2nd largest city and home to the country's biggest Chinatown. After leaving Fukushima on a 6:30am bus, we made our connections in Tokyo to arrive in Yokohama in time for lunch. We navigated our way into Chinatown which was mostly lined with restaurants selling a variety of Chinese dishes while the streets were crammed with window shoppers and tourists. It had been months since I've tasted Chinese food, so lunch was a welcome treat. After browsing a few of the shops, I was able to get a taste of what will be in store for me as I navigate the markets in Hong Kong and mainland China in my week away.
Without purchasing anything- why pay more for what I can get for less in a few days?- we left Chinatown to visit Yokohama's waterfront en route to the giant ferris
wheel. There are a series of moving sidewalks here along the waterfront with great views over the harbour area and neighbouring highrises, including the city's tallest building. The ferris wheel is the largest in Japan and afforded us with some nice views of the city. Of course, it had been a lovely, bright, sunny day until we boarded the ferris wheel and everything became dark and overcast. Still, it was a fun ride and were were able to see more of the city, including a neighbouring building with an onsen (hot spring pool) on its roof.
After the ferris wheel ride and a bit of shopping, I left Eve and went back to Tokyo on my own to meet up with a friend from home who was passing through Tokyo for a week on her way back to Toronto. Before I met up with Alanna, I had to first check into my capsule hotel.
I had wanted to stay in a capsule hotel for a while nad I wouldn't have been able to leave Japan without spending at least one night there. The difficult thing is that not all capsule hotels accept women as they are usually reserved
The entrance to one of Chinatown's restaurants
for drunken businessmen who are too intoxicated to make it home or have missed their last train back to the suburbs- not an entirely difficult task since subways and trains stop running before midnight and taxi fares are atrocious. With some handy research online, I managed to find the Asakusa Capsule Hotel which had a floor reserved for women.
I showed up, and, obviously confused as to the inner workings of a capsule hotel, the desk clerk kindly instructed me on what to do. First, I had to remove my shoes and place them in a locker in exchange for a pair of green vinyl slippers. Next, I inserted my money (about $26 CDN) into a ticket machine and selected the button for a night's stay in a capsule. I then had to present this ticket to the desk clerk who handed me a key and waved me onto the elevator. The lobby/lounge area was full of Japanese men relaxing in matching green pajammas and their vinyl slippers. I made my way up to the 8th floor and into the waiting area of the ladies floor.
Purses, backpacks, bags, and valuables are all stored in a locker in
a changing room-type of area. In each locker are two towels, a pre-toothpasted toothbrush, and a set of green pajammas like the ones the men in the lobby were wearing. The capsule room itself was comprised of about 24 or so capsules, 2 capsules high all around the room. A little indicator light was on the occupied beds and each capsule had its own number. I found my assigned capsule and climbed in to find a mirror, shelf, TV, radio, lights, blankets, and a pillow, all tucked away behind a pull-down fabric screen for privacy.
I lef tot meet Alanna and her friend Julio for dinner on Daiba/Odaiba island- the man-made island off of Tokyo Bay where i had been back in June to visit Sega Joypolis. After a ride on the driverless monorail to Daiba, we settled on a sushi bar for dinner and drinks, before making our way back to the northern part of the city before the last train of the evening. I was back to my capsule hotel for a surprisingly restful sleep. The ladies floor was now more than half occupied. Despite hearing a few people waking up early in the morning and me
bumping my knees on the side of the capsule, it was a good experience. I had much more room than I had inticipated (and was worried that I might even be too tall to sleep comforatbly) and want to try a cpasule hotel again.
I met up with Eve after breakfast in Harajuku and went shopping of ra bit in Shibuya before meeting Alanna again at Yoyogi Park. There was some sort of parade and festival or dance competition going on. I have no idea as to the actual purpose of Sunday's events, but various groups of all ages took turns up on a large stage performing dance routines in costumes. Eithe rwya, it was fun to watch.
The "Harajuku Girls" were also out in force along Harajuku Bridge. These kids dress up in bizarre costumes and hang out on the bridge. Its their goal to have their pictures taken so the tourists and even professional photographers are out in force, mingling with the (mostly) girls and taking their photos. Most were dressed in a scary goth wardrobe although a few were dressed in over-the-top babydoll style dresses. From there, we checked out the Miji Shrine before making
a pitstop in Ginza to visit the Sony building. Sony has showcases of all their products and new gadgets that won't hit North American shelves for a while, but there are few deals to be found.
Eve and I said goodbye to Alanna and took the metro over to Shinjuku station to catch our bus back to Fukushima. This is where we ran into problems. Shinjuku station is actaully 4 different stations in one. Of course, we arrived at the total opposite end of where we needed to be. Having 35 minutes to spare to make it to our bus, we weren't that concerned as we started making our way to the other end of the station. Once we realized we had no idea where we were going or how to get there, we started asking metro and station employess for directions and received wrong information causing us ot wander aimlessly. Time was running out and we finally got decent instruction with security guards who were panicking because we were panicking. We literally had to run from one en dof the station to another.
In Japan, you need a ticket to get onto the train platforms and one
when you exi tthe station. In our confusion and marathon sprint, EVe had lost her ticket and mine wouldn't work in teh station gate. The helpless ticket agent sat at the ticket booth dumbfounded as we both burst through the barriers, yelling our apologies and explanations in a language he obviously didn't understand. I actually think we frightened him. We finally burst outside and made it to the bus entrance running full tilt. The bus employees saw us running and figured we were late for our bus. Luckily, one of them thought to radio the bus and we were able to catch what was the last bus to Fukushima. We were safely in our seats, gasping for breath at 6:51pm, one minute past the scheduled departure time. In any other country I wouldn't have been concerned, especialy since we had already reserved seats in advance. But in Japan, everything runs like clockwork and there was no way they would wait for us.
I'm back in Tokyo for the afternoon on Friday before I head over to Narita for the night to catch an early flight Saturday morning to Hong Kong. I'm going to be spending 5 days sightseeing around
Hong Kong and bordering mainland China on my own. Hopefully, I won't be late for any buses.
There are more photos below