Dec 09 2011

19th week

Sleepless in Shuttle

After another sleepless night on an airplane I arrived at Narita Airport for the second time. This time even more packed with stuff compared to the first time. I brought my bicycle trailer and my snowboard. Well, since I don’t have my own bicycle (I used my sister’s bicycle for the Hamburg – Rome bicycle trip) I obviously need to deal with that problem here in Japan. However I’ve still got some time for that as the trip is scheduled for 2012 and I do not intend to start in the winter season.

Oh, there is something I kept as a secret so far: My new job here in Japan. Those who have accompanied me on my Japan stay through my blog so far might remember that I already had arranged a job at an Onsen (hot spring) hotel in the Mountains of Gunma Prefecture close to Nagano before I began my Japan stay. After 3/11, tourism all over Japan had decreased and so the hotel manager apologised for being unable to hire me. However he got back to me some months later, telling me he could use me now. As I had found another job by then we set a starting date for the first of November. Even though Fukushima completely screwed up my plans for Japan the outcome was even better. I knew the hotel was located in the mountains. I knew it was an onsen hotel. I did not know that it is in middle of a winter sports area. Of course I would have happily worked there during the summer season when I could “only” have enjoyed the onsen and walking around the mountains. But this way I get to enjoy both the onsen as well as snowboarding.

First I have to pick up some stuff my dear and record breaking host Brandon kept for me while I was in Germany. But how to get from Narita Airport, Chiba prefecture to Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture almost 62 miles packed with a rucksack, a 47 inch x 23 inch x 20 inch bicycle trailer weighing 101 pounds including a snowboard without having to pay a fortune? And how to get then from there back to Tokyo again to catch the bus to Manza, Gunma Prefecture? I’m definitely too packed for any train or metro. Luckily there are buses to Kawagoe. And for 3.000 Yen (37,95 AUD, 39,48 CAD, 24,68 GBP, 38,60 USD) it’s not even expensive.

“Brother from another mother:” being welcomed by Brandon in Kawagoe.

The hotel I will be working at has it’s own company bus that departs daily (!) at 9 a.m. from Shinjuku, Tokyo. Packed with five items now I definitely can’t take the metro to get there from Kawagoe. It’s almost about 31 miles after all. So once again I depend on a coach service. Actually there is one company offering such a service however only after 9 a. m. and … it’s the only one I can find. A taxi would cost me at least 7.000 Yen (88 AUD, 92 CAD, 57,6 GBP, 90 USD) if not more, if I found one at all that could carry and if so would accept this much stuff at all. I feel kind of ashamed to ask former hosts with cars since November the 1st is a regular working Tuesday—it’s understandable that they have better things to do than to be my chauffeur. Wait a minute… I came to Kawagoe by an airport bus. And they run 24/7 to almost every place in the Tokyo metropolitan area and also 24/7 from almost every Tokyo metropolitan area. Hmmm… Let’s search: Haneda airport to Shinjuku. Arrival time 8:30. Wow, success! But would be there at 7:30 already. Departing from Haneda airport at 6:15. Okay, now Kawagoe to Haneda Airport. Oh …. hmmmm departing 4:25 a.m.

Well, I knew it would take sacrifices. With my Tetris packing skills I managed to pack everything in my bicycle trailer two big plastic bags, my backpack and the snowboard goes on top of my trailer. After another sleepless packing night at Brandon’s, in buses and at the airport, I finally arrive in Shinjuku. I’m at the place described by the hotel manager—there are buses but even at ten to nine there’s no sign of the Manza bus. I’m sending a text message to the manager… No reply. 5 to nine. I’m calling him. Nobody is picking up….

At about 20 minutes past nine I discover the bus station where the bus departs form. The bus had already taken off of course. I’m going to bus station manager. He has the landline number of the Onsen hotel, is calling it for me and hands me the phone.

“Hi is this Ichimura San?” I’m asking.

“Ah Simon San, I’m sorry I forgot my cell phone at home today. Oh by the way I just realised I made a mistake when describing how to get to the bus station. It’s not south side it’s west side.”, he apologises.

“Yeah, I think I just realised that as well” is my reply.

”But can you still come via train? You know transportation fee is the companie’s burden”, he is asking.

“Er, no I’m afraid that won’t be possible”, I’m replying.

“Ah wakarimasu ne. But tomorrow via our bus?” he’s asking again…

Hm… I think I’ve got another problem. Should I really get all my stuff now back to Brandon? I am pretty sure he would host me again but after all he did for me so far I simply don’t want to bother him any more. With all my stuff it would be outrageous to beg any host for an emergency couch for only one night. As much as I earned within the last four months I should actually afford myself a night in a hostel but who knows if I will stay this lucky regarding finding new jobs after my next one? For safety reasons I’d rather save the money. Luckily it is a bright and shiny day without the slightest sign of a cloud. And even though it’s November the temperature is quite all right. So yes, I am really thinking of sleeping in a park. I know it’s not legal and not how a guest should behave in a foreign country. But these times are tough.

One might wonder now how it fits together that I on one hand indulge myself the luxury to travel world wide, to take my snowboard with me but stint on the other hand with 3.000 Yen (37,95 AUD, 39,48 CAD, 24,68 GBP, 38,60 USD) for a night. I’d like to emphasise the following regarding that: My Hamburg – Rome bicycle trip was more a makeshift since I lost my job during the world wide economic crisis and it appeared senseless to me to apply for jobs in a time in which thousands experienced a similar fate and it was therefore quite unlikely to quickly find a job at a time in which most companies rather dismissed people instead of hiring them. The reason for my Japan stay is admittedly and surely my thirst for adventure but also the fact that I’ve never accomplished a one-yearlong lasting stay abroad with which I’d like to value my CV. And the snowboard? – Is ten years old and was a present. And if you book a flight about one year in advance, put some effort in a sophisticated search you will be stunned for how little money it is possible to travel around the world. And this shall also be told: Who searches long enough will find an airline that does not even charge to transport a snowboard. But now back to Shinjuku.

Where to put my stuff while I’m sleeping? Jim and Heath! Right, one of my first hosts who live in Shibuya nearby Shinjuku. Hm… Can’t reach them via phone. Seems I have to go there with all my stuff and ring the bell.

Finally there somebody’s opening the door. But it’s neither Jim nor Heath.

“Hi, er you must be a couch surfer I suppose?” I’m asking the gentleman.

“Well, kind of. Jim and Heath rented the house to us while they are on their vacation”, he’s replying.

“Oh, that’s embarrassing. Well, I’m a former couchsurfing guest. I kind of got stranded, not asking to stay for a night only if I could leave my things here at the pitch for a night?” I’m explaining.

“Well, sure. No problem!”

As I’m so exhausted I’m lying down on a meadow in a park. About three hours later I awake. 3 p.m. of course too early to finally settle down for today. Hm… maybe I should go to a hairdresser’s before seeing my new employee.

So this is my first time I am at a Japanese hairdresser’s. She’s doing a good job. What I like about the Japanese hairdressers over the German ones is that they wash your hair not before but after you got your cut so that really all cut hairs are gone. Also interesting: They clean your ears with the towel. Kind of shocking or let’s simply say unexpected if you are not used to that. But what I like best is that I’m receiving a free shoulder and back massage after all is set and done! And as much as my shoulders are aching after the long haul today it comes at a time that couldn’t have been chosen more sense-fully. All this for 3.500 Yen (44,28 AUD, 46,06 CAD, 28,80 GBP, 45,03). Better invested than in a hotel night. :)

After getting a sushi pack from a grocery store for dinner I can even brush my teeth in one of the park toilets. Wow, got my hair washed, teeth and face cleaned—only need to find a cosy spot in a park which can’t be spotted by the police. When finally finding one I’m discovering several homeless people who seem to be used to this place already. As I am unfolding my camping matt and sleeping bag I feel a bit ashamed. For me this situation is like an adventure. For them it’s their daily routine. I get into my sleeping bag and fall asleep quite quickly. I wake up about three times at night but with my jacket on in my sleeping bag it’s really all right.

A grip to my throat the next morning tells me it is not cut through. A grip to my pockets tells me my wallet is still there. No I am not in a prison cell. And yes, after picking up my stuff from Jim and Heath’s I’m finally catching the bus to Manza!

Special thanks to: Hubertus Neidhart from Webspace Provider Network for excellent web page hosting services; Jim McKinley (proofreading), Lilith Pendzich;


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