Japan current locationThe morning of October 4th was filled with a little sadness. This was my last full day in Tokyo, and I knew that the last day is always a blur. I had to pack my backpack to travel weight as I needed my laptop. I was way behind on logs, now three days, and I needed to take advantage of the train ride out to my parents to try and get more of it done.

The rain hadn’t let up, so I ended up hunched underneath my umbrella-like object trying to protect my equipment from the rain. I had about all my gear with me, and no way was I letting it get waterlogged. I bought a ticket on the subway, and realized I’d have to do the same in Ueno. Realistically, it was cheaper to take the subway around, rather than trying to do the subway-JR-subway craziness, but having checked the subway map, it was the world’s biggest pain in the butt and a larger expense by comparison. It was like three train changes to get to Shinjuku, although I guess that’s the same number when it comes to taking the JR. I just know the JR really well, better than the various spaghetti-like subway lines. I decided the costs were minimal in exchange for convenience and the confidence of knowing exactly where I was going. I rode to Ueno and bought a ticket to Shinjuku.

I had made some time estimates with regards to going to see my host parents, but I had left the ryokan later than I’d intended (as usual). I figured I could make it to Aihara by 4pm, and that would include a trip to Obirin College in Fuchinobe, where I’d attended in 1994. When I called my host mom from the ryokan, I asked if 4 was okay, and she told me it was fine. I always have trouble getting off the phone with her for some reason, more so than other calls. No idea why that is! I just can’t figure out what the last words should be, and whether they’re adequate to hang up at.

I arrived at Shinjuku Station again, with only a few real goals. The first was pretty easy – find lunch – and I knew exactly where I was going. A little finesse in underground navigation, and I was able to locate the Pao Pao dumpling place I’d seen the day before. Maneuvering the station as far as where I was going was easy, the hard part was dodging the hundreds of people that were running around; it was Monday, and everyone was back at work. I got in line at the dumpling place and had to choose from the excessively difficult number of selections that were available. I decided on two meat buns, four shuumai (two pork and two crab) and I figured 5 gyoza would be plenty to eat. All the dumpling items were priced either in singles or in packs. When I got around to telling the girl my order, however, I had a little trouble. She got the niku-man down okay, and the shuumai were also easily explained. On the contrary, I wasn’t sure whether the counter for gyoza, as they were not round, was still “kou” (ikkou, nikkou…). I ended up asking for five in the generic ‘isatsu’, which I guess was wrong. She asked if I wanted a pack, and I didn’t think I’d messed up. I assumed you couldn’t buy just five, and they only came in packs after a single one. This of course was flawed logic, but I ended up with ten gyoza. This was a *lot* of food, to say the least. Oh well, they all looked so good anyway. Another 1400 yen later, I was off.

I already knew not to bother looking around the station to find somewhere to sit as I’d already played that game yesterday. I just went straight to the south exit and pointed my feet at Takashimaya Times Square. I needed to go to Tokyu Hands, which was the second thing on the agenda, and that seemed a logical place to go next as it was right next to the benches. There’s a crosswalk and a light out the south entrance, so I took that instead of the overpass. As I arrived on the other side of the street, I noticed off to the right was a small restaurant with Hiroshima in the title. Initially it wasn’t very interesting, but I presented this information to my brain for consideration and something occurred to me. “Can’t hurt to check,” I told myself as I turned and walked over to it.

I checked the menu. Sure enough, right there in the picture, was Hiroshima-yaki, as evidenced by the noodles hanging out of the side of the pancake-like dish. I’ll be damned, I thought. It probably wasn’t as good as in Hiroshima proper, but if someone was only coming to Tokyo for a short trip, this might be a reasonable alternative to try it. It’s easy to find, just cross the street from the south exit from Shinjuku JR Station and turn right; it’s directly in front of you under the exit from the overpass, and it has Hiroshima, written in English, in the name.

I reversed course once more and walked back to Takashimaya. As I arrived at the benches I’d seen yesterday, they were all full. Drat. I looked around some for an alternate eating location and decided on the planters all the way across from the benches in front of the side entrance. I wasn’t really able to put anything down, so I had to somehow finagle the packages open with just one hand. While it’s all cool and nifty that they wrap everything so nicely, it’s also somewhat of a pain, since they do such a good job! With quite a bit of effort, I was able to get the man plastic container out of its wrapping paper, then pull the rubber band off and take a hearty bite of one of the niku-man.

Wow. Handmade, fresh pork buns are light-years ahead of the things you can normally get from grocery and convenience stores. The dough was light, but chewy, and the filling, which was piping hot, was precisely seasoned and flavorful. I wolfed this down, happy that I’d purchased a twin. Next came the shuumai, and they required a little more effort what with the sauce and mustard condiments. I somehow managed to open these two extras up with my teeth and placed their contents in the lid so I could dip the items before eating. The crab ones were not as good as I’d hoped. Still as good as they could be, but I wasn’t all that fond of the flavor. The pork ones, on the other hand, were another taste treat that made me sigh with delight as I bit into them. Next, I tried a gyoza or three, and while they were again a wonderful treat of chewy goodness, I soon realized I was going to be very full if I tried to eat them all alongside the remaining bun. I put up the remaining seven. The last man went down with a warm happiness, and I threw away the other wrappers outside of the gyoza. I put them back into the plastic sack and then headed into Takashimaya, wrapping my rascal umbrella on the way in.

As I was about to enter the door, I noticed there was a so-called HMV Music and Movie Master store on the 14th floor. Since I was still searching for Bianca’s DVD, I decided to ride the elevator past the perfume and jewelry counters to that location to try and find it. I wedged myself inside with a number of other patrons, and then walked into HMV on the second to highest floor. It’s a huge place, with many different sections. I walked initially through the music, and found an Evanescence CD for 3200 yen! CDs are very, very expensive in Japan, and I wondered how many people in this country use peer-to-peer sharing in lieu of purchasing CDs. Some of the Koda Kumi CDs I’d bought were called “Copy Protected” CDs, but if they had copy protection, I failed to notice it when I converted the songs to MP3 for use in my MP3 player.

They separate the western music from the Japanese here, and it’s an interesting thing to note that the western music section is much bigger than the other. I passed the music to reach the DVDs, and while they had a decently large DVD section, there was still no hint of “Shall We Dance?” I stopped into the Japanese music section once more and located a new Hamasaki Ayumi single I didn’t have plus another single I also didn’t own. Two “single” CDs, each containing only 4 songs (2 normal and 2 instrumental), totaled up to over 3000 yen. Yuck. As I left, I noticed the Utada CD, which is number on the pop charts, and decided I wanted to get that before I left. It’s number one for a reason, I thought, and I never hurt to find new artists as I always tend to listen to the same music over and over again. Now wasn’t the time though, as I’d already checked out and wasted more time as the clerk had to replace the roll of paper in the register.

Tokyu Hands was on the far end of the building up to the fifth floor. I looked at my watch, and realizing I was way behind schedule, ran to the other side and the escalators that ran the height of the building. I passed through the food court and noticed a great deal of public tables I could have eaten at, if I’d wanted to ride the elevator up. Information for next time. As I trucked down the escalators, I was continually impeded by several people who didn’t seem to follow the “stand on the left, walk on the right” philosophy that most diligently adhered to in the train stations. I’d race around them at the floor changes, then continue on until I was blocked once more.

I hadn’t had any luck trying to find Reazul’s kites he’d asked for, either, and I thought they might have some. When I finally got down to the floors that Tokyo Hands occupied, I would stop briefly at each one, check to see what was sold on this floor, then run down the escalator to the next level. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom that I located the kites. Unfortunately, while they were cool, the cheapest one was 9000 yen, and Reazul had a 40 dollar ceiling. I cursed under my breath, then forced myself to walk off in the direction of the station again. I stopped only for a moment when I noticed a toilet, as that wasn’t going to wait any longer, and I had a long train ride ahead of me.

Noon was my cutoff, and it was already past that. I still hadn’t quite located the location where I could leave on the Odakyu line to Machida, as the JR way of getting out to my host parents is slow and out of the way, not to mention more expensive. I had seen an Odakyu line entrance near the JR exit gate, and I ran over to it back in the station. I checked the map and was pleased to see Machida on the list of available stations. The Odakyu line from Shinjuku is pretty simple too, it’s a straight line with a few branches. I looked at the entrance gate to see times, and nothing was leaving for a few minutes, so I knew my final goal could be attained.

I ran up the staircase next to the Odakyu entrance and returned to, you guessed it, the crepe shop, where I once again indulged in my peechi-nama-kureemu deliciousness. I was really going to miss these. I carried it with me back to the Odakyu line; the entire process only cost me three whole minutes. I again checked the map, and then a smaller one which showed which train stopped at which station. There was an express leaving in 5 minutes and a semi-express leaving 5 more after that. It appeared that the express didn’t stop at Machida, but it did stop a few before, and then I could take a local the extra few stations. That would be faster than a local all the way, to be sure. I made sure the destination of that express was not one of the other branches, and it was fine, so I went and bought a 340 yen ticket, then ran through the entrance gate and down to track 5, which was the one listed for the express. All I had to do was remember which stop to get off at to change trains.

I located a car with a free seat, quickly, then took it. The train was filling up, so I was lucky to do so, and ended up with a person on either side of me. I took a moment to verify the stop I needed to get off at, and how far away it was, so I wouldn’t miss it. On the chart, I was pleased to discover that the train did indeed stop at Machida after all, and it was only the sixth one. Cool. I sat down, took out my laptop and worked on the logs, as I wasn’t sure how long it was until we arrived.

Thirty-five minutes. That’s how long it was. Which unfortunately, considering the size of the log I was working on that day, wasn’t even close to enough time. I put the laptop away before the stop and got off with a sizeable chunk of people; Machida must be a transfer point for a lot of different lines. As I walked across Machida’s big plaza to the JR lines, I noticed a big Gap ad adhered to the wall of a building. They use the same ads I guess, as Sarah Jessica Parker was prominently displayed. My suspicions were correct about the transfer point. For the same reason I was getting off here, so did everyone else. Machida intersects the Odakyu and Yokohama JR lines, and so people headed to Yokohama were apparently buying tickets in droves. I was going the other way, to Fuchinobe, and I bought a 160 yen ticket, as it was only one stop, and waited for the next northwesterly bound train, towards Hachioji. It was about ten minutes away. There was a semi-express leaving before it, but Fuchinobe wasn’t one of its stops. I had to take the local. A train arrived and sat behind me while I ate a grape-flavored sherbet cone from a vending machine. I thought this was the express train, but suddenly realized just as it was about to leave that it was the correct train, and I dove through the doors as they closed a few minutes later.

It was already past one when I arrived in Fuchinobe, and I was once again surprised to fine another train station had been revamped. It had a big second story plaza, and the bus stations had all been moved around. This was not good for me, since I was trying to locate the free school bus to Obirin, so I wouldn’t have to walk or pay for cab fare. I walked down the stairs and took a quick gander around. Fortunately, it wasn’t an issue. I quickly located the blue and yellow Obirin Gakuen school bus and raced onto it. The engine wasn’t running, so my express sprint to do so was a fruitless gesture. Several other did the same, though, and soon the bus was completely full, with people even standing in the exit door area. The driver started the engine and we made the short trip in only 10 minutes.

When I exited the bus, however, I was presented with a new problem. Obirin had been under construction since my last visit as well, and this was a new bus stop. The building in front of me as I walked out was brand new, and I really wasn’t sure where exactly I was! I had a vague idea, so I walked up the hill toward where I thought the Kokusai Kokryou Center office was. This was the International Students office, and it was where I would find all the people I knew. The last time I’d come I had a similar problem. I found the building, but the office had moved. I finally located it in the same building down the hall to the left.

Being on a university campus was a different thing than walking around. The people wearing uniforms were far fewer, and those that were came from the high school that’s also part of the complex. People of course look older, and the one change I noticed from when I had studied here was that everyone was of course carrying a cell phone which they were either talking or messaging on everywhere. I walked to the building which I thought was correct and took a left to be able to find the room they’d moved it to last time. As I traversed the hallway, however, I was greeted by only classrooms; This was not the same place. Drat. I walked out of the end of the hall and back into the rain. I was nearly certain this had to be the place, but no offices could be seen. I followed the hill up to the northernmost bordering street that I expected to be there. Again I was confused; the street was there, and apparently so was the building in which I’d actually taken classes, so in theory where I was earlier should have been correct.

I took a wide arc around to the left and walked south again through campus, not recognizing any of the buildings. I checked my watch and my pace quickened, as I was really running out of time to try and make it to my host parents’ by four. The street dead ended next to a field, and a building sat to the field’s right. This was the cafeteria, for sure, and so the original street *had* to be correct. Frustration and desperation began to set in. I turned left and returned to the corner by the new bus stop. A map was catty corner to me, so I approached it and scanned for “kokusai”. This search was unsuccessful, but I did notice an “information building” just a few feet away, so I attempted to go to it. This building did not have an entrance on this side, and I didn’t see one anywhere. I finally just decided to try the original building I’d entered once more and possibly ask. My sudden thought was to try the old location, which I thought had become a library, and at least ask about that. I didn’t need to ask. A sign in front designated the room the Kokusai Koryou Center; they’d moved it back! As I walked up, I could see Ootsuka-sensei, who was the woman who had taken us on many field trips. It’s been ten years since I first came here, and the amount of grey in her hair has increased a great deal. She was flitting about the counters inside, apparently very busy. As I walked in, I also noticed a girl I recognized I didn’t really know, and Yoshie, who had also spent a good deal of time with us in 1994. She looked up as I walked in, and her eyes got wide. She pointed at me.

“It’s you!” she exclaimed. I wasn’t sure if they remembered my name, as they deal with so many students, so I mentioned it anyway. “Ah, Marc-san! We didn’t know you were coming!”
“It’s kind of a surprise visit,” I told her. “I didn’t have a chance to tell anyone.” The other problem is that I have no idea what I did with Ootsuka-sensei’s business card she’d given me in 1998 when I’d last visited, and so I wouldn’t have been able to tell them anyway. Yoshie talked to me for a long while, as Ootsuka-sensei was very busy and had been just barely able to look up and acknowledge my arrival. I knew she was stressed though, so I wasn’t in the least bit upset about it. Yoshie asked me if I was still in contact with anyone, and I told her pretty much only Cloyce and very, very rarely Andrew Benton. I told her Cloyce had gotten married, and that his wife was also very much into Japan. You’d better drop by next time you’re in Tokyo now, Cloyce! She told me she was still in contact with Beth, who apparently had gotten married recently as well.

We caught up on what had been happening with both sides; the conversation was entirely in Japanese, even though Yoshie is fluent in English. Apparently Obirin was no longer doing an exchange program in the summer with UT. That was really sad, because it was such a good program, and was a good “starter trip” as it was only a couple of months in length. Heck, it was great for me, and I am still coming back ten years later. She showed me the two full-time exchange students they had from UT, and I told her I was very jealous. I really wish I had come here to study for longer than a few months. I broke out the laptop and began a quick, limited excursion into pictures. I located a semi-recent picture of Cloyce, which was from New Year’s. I then showed her pictures of my family, my dogs, and various other things in Austin. She had to get up from time to time to help people, but always came right back. Ootsuka-sensei finally became free, and came and sat down with me. We talked about the same sorts of things, and she asked if I’d seen my host family recently. I said I’d always gone to visit them each time I’d come, and that I’d be going there again, right after that meeting. She noted that Shimizu (my host family) used to host students all the time, but had stopped rather recently. She decided since I was going there she’d use it as an excuse to call them up and ask.

She was called away a number of times more often than Yoshie, and I really noticed time getting short. It was already almost four by now, and I didn’t want to be late. I stayed around a little more though, and then I realized I could wait no more when 4 actually came. I had talked to Yoshie about the changes I’d noticed in the bus stop and the new building next to it; apparently that building was the brand new health center that had just opened two months prior. She pointed out where I needed to catch the bus, since there were two stops right there. One wouldn’t take me to the station, so that was really handy information. I thanked them, got a business card from Yoshie so I could email her from time to time, and then waved as I walked out. I practically ran out of the building. I figured it would take me a few minutes on the bus, then a few more to wait for the train. There was an exit on the side of the tracks closest to my parents, so I could take that and…

“Son of a bitch,” I said.

A massive line of people had formed to wait for the bus. And when I say massive, I mean humongously huge. So big, in fact, that for a moment, I thought maybe it wasn’t for the bus. When I stepped through it and looked, however, I was horrified to find myself correct. It was about three to four people wide, and stretched from the bus stop all the way up the hill back to my classroom building. This curled its way into the one waiting bus that could only carry about 60 people at most. There had to be 600 or more people in that line. If buses were lined up and waiting, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But there was only one, and I didn’t see any more ready to take its place when it was full. I made a quick decision to try and find a cab, which I could probably do on the road back to the station.

I made a brisk pace in that direction, and turned right on that road, which I knew led to the station, and I’d walked before. It’s a decent sized walk, however, and I just didn’t have the time. I saw across the intersection a cab was waiting for the light, and lucky me, it had its light on, indicating it was in service and didn’t have a customer! I walked slowly up the road, waiting for the light to change. This took what seemed like eternity, and I managed to get past the Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken I’d passed on the way to school, neither of which existed last time I’d come through here. Finally, the light turned, and the cab came close. I stopped, stuck out my hand to signal the cab, and he drove right past me. He did, in fact, have someone already in it. “That’s why you have the little light, ya bastard!” I called after him. I started speed-walking in the direction of the station, from time to time looking behind me to see if maybe, perhaps, a cab would appear. After I’d walked what I determined in my head to be at least half the distance, I finally blew it off. I pulled out my cell phone and used some of the remaining time to call my host parents. I was glad I’d entered the phone number before I’d left the ryokan.

“Hai,” said my host mom.
“It’s Marc. I’ve become late unfortunately, I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay, where are you?” she asked.
“Fuchinobe,” I told her.
“Ah, you went to Obirin,” she correctly surmised.
“I tried to take a bus, but they’re all really crowded,” I explained, “so I’m walking and hurrying.”
“I understand, be careful,” she told me, then we sumimasened off the phone.

I was really walking full-speed, as fast as I had walked in Miyajima, but without the running. I didn’t *need* to be there right away, but I wanted to have as much time as possible in Aihara without leaving much after 8PM. It was already 4:20PM, and I still had a good deal to walk, a train to wait for, and another short walk after that. My feet continued their frenzied pace, passing person after person, and I arrived at Fuchinobe station in a mere 13 minutes. It’s normally a 25 minute walk, so you can imagine I was really going quickly. I had counted only three buses that had passed me, completely packed with people, so I guessed I wouldn’t have even been close to one at that point, had I waited. I bought a ticket to Aihara, but unfortunately had just missed a train. It was another thirteen minutes to wait. It came on time as always, and I was off to Aihara, which was five stops away.

As I exited the train, I looked for the rear exit gate, which I remembered to be right in the middle of the train. That was where I had gotten off, but I sure as heck didn’t see it. Had they removed it? I reversed direction a few times, but didn’t find it. What I did find was something else odd – an elevator. I didn’t remember that either. It was just an overpass to the station on the other side of the tracks, before. I noticed a set of stairs and took it, expecting to walk to the other side.

“Whoa,” I said, emulating Neo. Aihara, along with Fuchinobe and Ueno, had been completely rebuilt from the ground up. A large, modern upstairs station with automated gates had replaced the one-sided, dirty, 1950’s-era station that I had known for years. It also had the miraculous wonder of exits on both sides of the tracks now, which was a good thing. The rear exit gate usually closed early, and you had to walk way the heck around to get back to their house, and always had to walk the long way to buy a ticket. Now it was a normal station, with cool entrances and escalators and the works. I realized that JR must have redone the entire set of Yokohama-line trains, which they needed, quite frankly. It was very cool. I followed a line of people exiting the train as they cut across a parking lot and in front of the grocery store near my host parents house. I already had an omiyage for them, so I didn’t need to stop in and buy anything, like a melon, for instance. I crossed the street just passed, walked down their street, snapped a picture of a Nissan Skyline, and walked into their front door.

“Tadaima!” I called, and about four people called back.
“Okaeri!” they said, welcoming me home. My host mom stepped out of the kitchen, followed by Yoshiko, my host sister. This progression of people continued, with Mutsuo, my host brother, my host dad, Mutsuo’s wife (whose name I’m still unaware of! :( ) and finally, dwarfed by the greater crowd, a five-year-old Kouta, whose size, amazed me.
“He’s so tall!” I exclaimed, and they all agreed. “All I remember about him is the ‘boun-boun’,” I said, and made a sideways motion with my hands. For the full story on ‘boun-boun’, go back and read my Japan4 log from Tokyo wherein a younger Kouta is impressed with the size of Molly’s chest and bounces his hands off the sides of her breasts. Nobody here remembers this right off except Yoshiko, who laughs and covers her mouth.

“You are alone this time?” my host mom asked. I nodded and told her since this time I didn’t have a girlfriend, I’d come by myself. She laughed and then pointed me into the living room. After removing my shoes in the entrance before stepping into the house, I transferred myself to the couch therein. My host dad had already returned himself to a sitting position in front of the TV, which I mentioned to him was new again. Every time I came, I said, they had a new television, and this time it was a widescreen HDTV. The widescreen was nothing new; even back in 1994 they had one, which was a real novelty for me at the time. Everyone came into the room and took a seat on the floor around me. We discussed my trip and travels so far, and Mutsuo said he’d taken a look at my home page. “Just the pictures,” he said, and I laughed. I figured that was easier than trying to translate the droves of English I’ve poured out here.

Kouta was talking up a storm, and talking about all sorts of different things. “Ano, neee…” he’d say (um, hey), and then talk about something completely random. It was kind of nice at one point, as my host mom had to explain to him that I didn’t just *know* Japanese, and it was something I had to learn. This was a difficult concept for him to grasp, as I apparently sounded to him just like any other Japanese person. Okaasan walked off to continue dinner preparations, and I suddenly remembered I had omiyage for them. I opened up my backpack and pulled out the package of chocolate Longhorns from Lamme’s and the Texas-shaped dinner bell I’d brought with me. It was something different, as I usually bring them some sort of book. Otoosan called my host mom to come see, and then Kouta got to learn how to use it.

This was apparently a mistake. It was funny at first, he was banging away at it (I’d explained “Come’n get it!” with a small demonstration) but I soon discovered, this kid wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. In fact, for the rest of the night, he would continue to find it, and would bang away like crazy, sometimes making up little songs to go with the banging. I felt really bad, and eventually began apologizing for bringing such an annoying gift.

I tried to distract him by getting out my laptop, and began to show pictures to everyone. At first, this was interesting, but I guess everyone lost interest quickly. My audience dissipated more rapidly than I expected. Eventually I just hibernated it and left it plugged in to charge. Okaasan came in and asked if I’d want curry rice or curry udon for dinner, and since everyone else was having rice, I told her that made the most sense. Curry is curry, and I like it no matter how its presented. I wandered into the kitchen to watch my host mom cook, and explained again how it was hard for me to get Japanese food like this in the States. “Normal” Japanese food, like sushi, teriyaki, those were easy to find, but things that people are from day to day were a lot harder to locate. We talked about my house and how much it cost, in relation to Tokyo houses, and of course mine was “cheap”. About a hundred subjects of conversation later, I returned for a little while to the den to await dinner.

When it was ready, they had Kouta announce it on the Texas dinner bell, then everyone moved into the dining room. I sat to the right of my dad, then Mutsuo, his wife, Kouta, Yoshiko, and finally Okaasan. They gave food to Otoosan and me only at first, including a cucumber and crab salad, curry rice with vegetables and beef, some lettuce with soy dressing, pickles, and cooked pumpkin. Kouta also got his food, but his curry had been prepared separately so it wasn’t as spicy. Mutsuo pointed out that Kouta is still as smart as he was three years ago; he knew tons of things in English already, and could count to ten in the language without any effort at all. It was effortless really; I just said a word, and he’d say it in English. All this at five years old.

Kouta finished his food and got up and ran around. I continued my varied conversations with the family, and finally more people than just Otoosan and me started eating some curry. I asked Mutsuo how his job was, and he laughed, as did his wife. “Is it not good?” I asked.
“There is no job right now,” he told me. I asked why, and he responded, “It was difficult.” I don’t know if this meant the explanation was difficult, or the job was difficult and he quit, which at the time the latter seemed to be correct. So I guess he was living with his parents again, which was why he was there tonight, and also most likely why the Shimizus weren’t taking any exchange students. Okaasan brought me a little more curry and I finished it while we talked about Cloyce and members of my family. Okaasan had seen Cloyce’s picture on my laptop, and said, “That fat guy is Cloyce from 1994? What happened to him! He has no hair either!” This had made me laugh. My host mom had asked me earlier if I’d “graduated” from watching anime. I told her not a chance. :) I explained that in 1994, anime was still kind of the realm of geeks (a concept I had to explain as well, but the word ‘otaku’ would have worked fine), but these days, it had crept into popular culture, along with things like Japanese food and karaoke. Even “cool” people watched anime, I said. Mutsuo then asked if I’d gone to the Miyazaki museum.

I smacked my forehead. “Oh no! I forgot!” I said, exasperatedly. I had actually been planning on going there since 1998, but either forget or don’t have time to go every time I’d visited. This time, I’d flat out forgotten again. Okaasan said it was okay; apparently you have to get tickets 6 months in advance to see it! Next time I come, she said, I should get tickets way before I show up in Japan. This would be very, very hard, of course, since I never knew exactly where I’d be, much less when.

I finally retired back to the living room, where Otoosan had returned to his various TV shows. Kouta was drawing a picture for me and Mutsuo also came in a few minutes later to watch TV. He asked Kouta if he knew where I’d come from, and they broke out his puzzle maps of the world. He was able to dump these out and put them together really, really quickly, and Kouta said he was very “jouzu” (skilled) at it. On the TV, a game show was going on, one of the great delights and also great mysteries of Japanese television. This one was a partner game, and tonight they had on a pair of twin girls. The twins were hamming it up for the cameras, deliberately doing things like finishing each other’s sentences and saying the same thing at exactly the same time, which drew oohs, aahs, and laughs from the crowd each time. They had bizarre events, like a Velcro wall, using their bodies as weights on a see-saw like ball game, answering trivia while one of them was running on a treadmill, and eventually playing air hockey with two guys dressed up as frozen desserts. They managed to win 5 out of 6 of the competitions, and the final game was a dart throw, where a spinning wheel contained different prizes they could win. They hurled a dart, and whatever they stuck to would be a prize they got to keep. One of the slices of pie was a trip to Vegas and 10 nights at the Bellagio.

“Heeeeeeeee???” I exclaimed, “that’s really expensive!” They won two hard disc video recorders (no TiVo in Japan, yet) and a big TV, but even when they added a slice that was “everything” they were unable to hit it. They still walked away with lots of prizes, and the knowledge that every guy in Japan thought they were cute. Kouta tried his hand about that point at photography, and took a few pictures with their camera and with mine. Mutsuo showed me the pictures he’d had on his card, which included a few summer festivals and Kouta playing with sparklers.

I took the laptop back out again and showed Okaasan a few images, but at that point it was already eight-thirty, which she pointed out. I gathered my things and thanked them as always. They said I was welcome back whenever, and everyone said goodbye as I put on my shoes. I walked out the door, picked up my umbrella, and waved to my host mom one last time as I walked off, yelling, “Ittekimasu!”

“Itterashai!” she called after me.

I huffed my way to the train station, and was grateful this time to have an entrance on this side of the tracks. The station was effectively deserted, and I was able to catch a train a few minutes later back to Machida. One last time I walked across the station plaza and got a ticket on the Odakyu line to Shinjuku, which I was lucky enough one more time to get an express immediately. I used the time again to write a log, and when we got to Shinjuku I hadn’t heard the announcement. I just picked up my laptop and walked off the train. It was the last stop, though, so it wasn’t really a rush. It just took me by surprise. The Chuo-sen got me to Kanda, and the Yamanote-sen to Ueno, which was again light on people. I was back at Sakura a few minutes later, worked on the logs, and thought about what I was going to do in my last hours in Tokyo the next morning. Before I went to sleep, I reheated the gyoza I still had in my backpack using hot water from the heater in my room and enjoyed them one final time.

-- Hik