Tunnel of Light

About four hours before the end of 2019 we decided where we would go for our midnight celebrations. The two contenders were Shibuya, where there would be no fireworks but a lot of people out on the street (specifically the famous “Scramble Crossing”), and Hakkejima Sea Paradise, which was to the south of Yokohama and about a 2 hour train journey away, where fireworks were promised.

I checked that trains would be running all night – not just the Tokyo subway but the trains between Yokohama and Tokyo and local trains around Yokohama too. I was in favour of Shibuya, but Janna really wanted fireworks, and in the age-old way of deciding these things, we both put forward our arguments, we considered each others’ points of view, and then did what Janna wanted.

While it was not at all cold by Russia standards it was pretty chilly for Japan so we wrapped up in our warmest clothes and made our way to the train station for the first leg of our journey. Things were a little confusing when we reached Tokyo station as there were many trains stopping at the platform we needed for destinations other than where we were headed – variations of the Keikyu line, and we really needed a “limited express” service because there were some 70 stops on the local service!

However with all my experience dealing with metro lines around the world and in Tokyo in particular, I was able to suss out the right train to get on without having to ask at the desk. And after leaving the central Tokyo area, it began skipping stations with abandon and we arrived at our connection with the “Seaside Line” more or less within the expected timeframe.

Confusingly, the Seaside Line left from a different station – we had to leave the Keikyu station and go up several levels, as it turned out the Seaside Line is an overhead monorail service. The station was filling up quite a lot for this time of night which gave me heart that we were headed to the right place and that there would be plenty of other people there.

I still wasn’t sure exactly what the deal was. Hakkejima Sea Paradise is basically an aquarium, as far as I could gather, with dolphin shows and fairground rides, on a little island almost as far south from central Yokohama as Yokohama is from Tokyo. I didn’t know if we would have to pay to enter – the website said the facilities were open all night, but that is still a bit ambiguous.

I’m sure in the daytime the views from the Seaside Line are beautiful bayside and island panoramas, but at night all we could see were a few lights reflecting on many stretches of water far below us. The stop we needed didn’t seem particularly special, it was just all the other people getting off at the same place that gave away the fact this was one of the “go to” destinations of New Years Eve. There were a couple of festive decorations outside the station – a large illuminated polar bear and some brightly lit trees – but again we didn’t really know where we were supposed to go next and simply followed the crowd.

This strategy paid off as we approached a large welcoming signpost (in English as well as Japanese) welcoming us to Sea Paradise! Beyond this, the closest, most brightly lit and welcoming area was centrepieced by an old-fashioned merry-go-round, with horses, which family groups and other enterprising young people were enjoying.

Circled around this were some one-story buildings including toilet facilities, storage lockers, and several snack-bar type stalls, of which only two were open – one selling crepes and one selling various Japanese hot snacks. As we had been anxious to get here in good time (and, as it turned out had done so), we had neglected to eat dinner and as a result were very hungry. But the snack-bar sold fried chicken (or something that looked very like it might be fried chicken) and potato fries so we decided we had better eat while we had the opportunity. It was also getting colder as we approached the last hour of the year and the thought of some warm food was hugely appealing.

Fortunately the chicken was indeed chicken, though prepared in the Japanese style rather than the western style, but still nice enough. I had gone for “Shaka Shaka Fries” which meant flavoured salt was added – I picked barbecue flavour and found this much tastier than the garlic salt flavour I had had with a similar meal in Ohara a few months earlier. A few sizeable dollops of tomato ketchup completed the meal which in the circumstances, we both enjoyed very much!

With plenty of time in hand we decided to explore the surroundings a bit more. We passed a rocking pirate-ship ride with the usual screams of belly-churning panic, and then walked through a beautiful tunnel of light – just fairy lights wrapped round a scaffold but effective nonetheless. We then came to the main resort plaza – one building consisting of mostly shops and restaurants, and opposite it, the various aquarium and dolphinarium attractions. There were more food shops here but we didn’t kick ourselves too much as the queues were even more exorbitant than the prices. What we did appreciate very much was the shops that were properly “indoor” – with doors that closed and internal heating that revived chilled bodies. We spent a long time looking at all sorts of sea-animal themed tat. (In fairness some of the toy animals were quite imaginative – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cuddly stuffed horseshoe crab before).

We edged our way along the building and took note of where the majority of the crowds were positioning themselves for a good view of the fireworks. We literally had no idea in which direction we were supposed to be looking. Over time the crowds were building up significantly too. It numbered in the tens of thousands, easily. We decided rather than pick a spot and wait in the cold for an uncertain view, we’d just stay inside as long as we could and hope we could find somewhere to stand at the last minute.

We did ok in the end. It helped that we’re quite tall, and Japanese people are generally quite small, so we could have two or three rows in front of us without restricting our view at all (at least until they start holding their phones up in the air!). We found a balcony spot with a good view of the aquarium roof, where they had been doing a minute-by-minute countdown starting at 30, and it seemed like no time at all before it started counting down the final minute.

When it hit 10 seconds, the whole crowd started counting down – Ju… Kyu… Hachi… Nana… Roku… Go… Yon… San… Ni… Ichi…

And that was it. 2019, the 2010s, were gone.

There was a cheer, of course, and then what seemed like an awkward second – probably the time it takes for a projectile to travel from the ground to an appropriate height in the sky – and then BOOM! the sky exploded in lights and colours. We were facing the right direction, there was one building in our sightline that obscured one or two of the low-field displays but in general we had a perfect view of the whole show, which was accompanied by music blasting out on the loudspeakers.

Janna has seen many displays (in Russia they need very little excuse to set off fireworks) but she assured me this was one of the finest she had seen.

I think it was about an 8-minute show and had one or two things I hadn’t seen before – they managed to fire off a couple of heart-shaped displays and a smiley face, but afterwards began the inevitable shuffle towards the exit as everyone tried to go home at exactly the same time. In fairness a few probably stayed to enjoy the aquarium shows, and the fairground rides were still popular as we plodded past them. Not for the first time Janna was thankful I had decided to furnish her with a travel card as we saw the queue for the ticket machine at the station. We even managed to get seats on the second train to leave (the first was already at the station as we came up the escalator). Compared to our long, slow escape from the Sparrow Hills display in Moscow a few years earlier, this was quick.

Of course that was only the start of our journey home, we had a long ride back to Tokyo – the thought of staying up to watch the rising sun held no appeal whatsoever – and plans to make for the rest of our holiday.

NOTE: I apologise for the absence of photographs. I had taken some but I have used up my allocation of space on WordPress and don’t want to begin mutilating previous entries to free up space. Hopefully I can paint you some beautiful images with words instead.


On the second day we decided to go to Skytree, which I have written about before (my visit with Nick and Dee). However there were a couple of differences – first, we didn’t go to the aquarium, and secondly today was a nice, clear day and we had a great view from the Observation Deck. Even though it was the last day of December, it was a sunny day, a little windy but not too cold.

Obviously it was also much busier than my previous visit – with the clear skies and the holiday season, and we had to wait a little while to go up, even with fast-track international visitor tickets.

We could even see – just about – Mount Fuji, though it was difficult for our cameras to distinguish from the sky. I could make out where my apartment was though I could barely make out the district never mind the street or individual buildings!

After we came down we went for ice-cream at the Cold Stone Creamery. This is a franchise I have visited before in Arizona, USA, but the Japanese version is a little different. They sing while they make your ice cream! And they are very good too – harmonies and plenty of different tunes!

By the time we finished at Skytree our options were narrowing. Many of the places we wanted to visit were closing early because of New Year. We hadn’t even decided where to go for the midnight celebration – we asked at a tourist office who confirmed there were no fireworks arranged in the whole of Tokyo. Our best bet seemed to be the Shibuya “Scramble Crossing” where thousands of people would gather in the street and watch the countdown on a big screen.

We still had a few hours to kill before then, however, and given our location in the north of the city, I decided we should go to Ueno, the biggest northern area of Tokyo, and home of temples, museums, parks, even a zoo that had giant pandas. And another place I had never been before.

We found the park easily – its entrance relative to the station was up a huge flight of stairs, but we found a shopping centre with escalators where the top floor opened up onto the park’s ground level. It was getting very windy when we arrived and it seemed most people were hurrying home.

We investigated the Buddhist temple near the entrance, then wandered deeper into the park towards the zoo and museums. It was largely deserted now, and as we feared, everything had closed early.

We spotted a four-level pagoda and headed towards that, which led us into the Peony Garden which, while in the process of closing, hadn’t actually closed yet. There wasn’t much sign of any peonies, but there were lots of stone lanterns and dragon-lion statues. And at the end, of course, a temple!

The insistent (and for once, date-appropriate) refrain of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ encouraged us to hurry out of the garden, and indeed the park, and take a leisurely route back to the station. We passed another temple in the middle of a lake, which seemed to have numerous street food stalls set up on the causeway, perhaps ready for its New Year commemoration visitors.

The skies were getting dark and we still hadn’t firmed up our plans for midnight, now just 6 or so hours away. We decided to return to the hotel and make a final decision while we were getting ready.


For the first time since arriving in Japan, I returned to Narita Airport to meet my girlfriend Janna, who flew in to spend a week over New Year with me. As my apartment is rather small and cramped, we checked into the same hotel I stayed in when I first arrived – near the station, near my apartment, and a pretty nice mid-range value hotel.

After coffee and pasta in a nearby cafe, we made some plans. I was interested in a light-and-water art installation called TeamLabs Borderless, while Janna was attracted by a museum of emerging technology. Both of these were in a district called Odaiba to which I hadn’t previously been, so we hopped on a train. And then a monorail!

Sadly, the museum was closed, so instead we just wandered around this area, on the reclaimed islands right in the nook of Tokyo Bay. It is quite an interesting place and a popular tourist venue, with several malls, lots of long wide boulevards, and beautiful views of the Rainbow Bridge – lit up in the evening, I finally understood why it got that name.

It even has its own copy of the Statue of Liberty, a popular photo spot. I spotted a Hawaiian steakhouse and being quite hungry and feeling justified in treating myself and my guest we stopped for a very tasty dinner.

Following that we headed towards the big wheel we had seen on the monorail – it had light-shows playing across it showing various images of animals and sporting activities. Underneath it we found – of course – another mall, this one contained an exhibition by Toyota of past, present and future vehicles. Janna was fascinated, while I have very little interest in cars when I don’t need a lift somewhere.

Another interesting feature of the mall were the HUGE numbers of teenage girls around. Many of them were carrying pink merchandise – clothes, badges, bags, banners – relating to what appeared to be a pink-haired boy manga character. It turns out that this in fact was a virtual pop star – Satomi – and the girls were here for a concert at a music venue under the wheel called Zepp. The ones not in the queue were in small groups comparing merch or taking pictures of each other with their prizes. Who knew pink tat could be so valuable?

Also under the wheel was Teamlabs Borderless, but we discovered it had quite a steep entrance fee. The price of a round on the wheel was far more reasonable, so we did that! The views from the wheel were impressive, even at night, with all the city lights around us. It was a nice way to finish our first day in Tokyo together!

Christmas in Japan

It would probably be more accurate to say that Christmas is observed rather than celebrated in Japan. Obviously very few Japanese are Christians who celebrate the religious aspect, and they don’t generally know much about the Nativity story. However they are very much into the commercial aspect, and towns, malls and shops go out of their way to festoon themselves with lights and decorations and pump out the familiar roster of Christmas songs on endless repeat, pretty much from the moment Halloween is over.

German Christmas Market at Roppongi Hills

There are no public holidays for Christmas – under the previous Emperor there was a holiday for his birthday on 23rd December but that disappeared when he abdicated. But given most foreign English teachers are from Christmas-celebrating cultures and tend to return home at that time of year, our English school closes for almost a month covering Christmas and New Year.

Festive outdoor concert practice (they were singing Bohemian Rhapsody)

Some Japanese do “celebrate” Christmas to a degree – particularly those in families with children. Many of these enjoy decorating a tree in their home, the children sometimes exchange Christmas cards, and they will have a special meal either on Christmas day or the nearest weekend to it. I’m not sure how it happened – probably American influence – but the idea of eating turkey at Christmas hasn’t caught on here, and they believe the classic Christmas food to be chicken. This fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by a certain famous American chain originating from Kentucky, who put on special Christmas menus and deals and (I’m told) their restaurants even take reservations for Christmas day.

Christmas Dinner, Japanese style

Of course I felt obliged to participate in the spirit of that tradition. I also bought a big box of chocolates, because Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas if there isn’t an open box of chocolates around. The box I bought looked like Quality Street, it had most of the same chocolates as Quality Street in the same wrappers, but was made by a different company, had a similar, but different name, and didn’t taste much like British chocolate at all (there was a kind of aniseed flavour to all the chocolate). But the fillings were nice enough, once you got through the chocolate.

Not quite Quality Street…

I had done my Christmas lessons with my students in the second week in December, aligned with all the other teachers and schools. We had two set lessons with materials provided (including a Santa hat which I may not have made full use of), but for my more advanced adult students, the lesson was more of an exploration of different Christmas traditions and where they originated.

For the younger kids, we made snowmen decorations, which were very popular! I made my own demo snowman decorated with fruit – words we teach even very young children.

Christmas decorations outside Shin Urayasu Station

Japan does have its own New Year traditions and public holidays, and most Japanese will return to their hometowns to be with their families. There are special noodles – extra-long ones – that they eat, there are special boxes of confectionery that they exchange with each other, there are traditional straw decorations they hang on their door for good fortune, and they all feel an urgent obligation to clean and tidy everything in their home before the new year arrives.

I will talk about my own New Year experiences in another blog but for now I’ll just say that the emphasis isn’t usually on the stroke of midnight, but on the first sunrise of the new year. People tend to gather at temples or at places with an easterly view. At the temples, a bell will ring in the new year, but it is a time for reverence and contemplation rather than cheering and celebration. That’s not to say that (mostly) young people won’t gather for a big old-fashioned countdown in certain popular locations, as I’ll tell you soon!

One last little intriguing nugget – the song “Auld Lang Syne” isn’t used for New Year’s Eve but you will hear the tune at closing time in many shops throughout the year as they persuade customers to finish their shopping and head to the checkout.


In the middle of the night we formulated a plan to visit the Great Buddha at Kamakura. For Nick and Dee that was not such a problem, they were based south of Tokyo so just had to hop on one train. For me I had to get up early, fight my way through rush hour on the Tozai line, and find the right station and line at Marunouchi Station.

Somehow we did manage to contrive to all be on the same train, Nick and Dee getting on at Yokohama, and myself already on it and having spotted them on the platform, making my way up the carriages for the rendez-vous.

Kamakura is about an hour on the train from Tokyo station (a regular local train, not a bullet train). There is a rapid service which gets there quicker. I was pleased to find an affordable route through Yokohama which I had not yet explored, just passed through on the train.

At Kamakura itself we found a pleasant, paved main shopping street outside the station, and after asking for directions a couple of times, we made our way towards the temple area.

After passing a few interesting shops, including one where you could make your own clockwork music box, we arrived at the first temple, Hase-dera. This is an ancient Buddhist temple and features carp ponds, caves, a carefully raked Japanese garden and the temple itself, which houses an eleven-headed Buddha statue (the Kannon Buddha).

One of the most interesting, and as I discovered later, heartbreaking aspects of the temple are the little stone figures arranged in rows and rows like an army parade, or a football crowd. It turns out these are called Jizu and are memorials to children lost to miscarriages and abortions.

The temple is halfway up Mount Kamakura and has some great views of the nearby town and beach. It also has some fascinating wildlife, from the large spiders sitting on their webs between the trees, to the beautiful chestnut-coloured kites hovering around, and sometimes swooping down from the mountain.

There is a mountain path with little, stone “pagodas” placed nearby, these are also funereal memorials, some of them centuries old.

Dee was particularly keen to find a feature called the “bamboo forest”, which in the end turned out to be little more than a bamboo thicket, but she still got herself some photos in it.

There was also a cave – so low that I had to stoop for the whole way through to avoid banging my head. This is apparently a shrine to the sea-goddess Benzaiten, one of the seven lucky gods of Japanese mythology. Lots of tiny Lego-sized statues of her sat on little platforms.

The last thing we looked at was the Japanese garden.

We then took a stroll up the main street towards the next temple which housed the famous Great Buddha, or Daibatsu. En route Nick and Dee stopped for jokoyaki – not takuyaki, the octopus balls, but something very similar made from anchovies or sardines, a local speciality.

Just before we entered the Kotoku-in temple, we saw a fleet of identical black cars sweep up outside, and a group of middle-eastern looking men in dark suits get out. The cars drove off and the group of men entered the temple just in front of us.

When we got closer we saw that all the men had Turkish flag badges. Could this be President Erdogan? We tried getting close enough to get a good look but couldn’t be certain. Nick took the direct approach and spoke to one of the security people. He said they were here with the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Mustapha Sentop. And it was true, they really were!

The distraction aside, the Great Buddha was just as impressive as its pictures. It sat in the centre of the courtyard in meditative contemplation while in front of him an incense burner smoked away, and curiously a bowl of oranges seemed to be the only significant offering.

The Buddha was cast in bronze in 12 sections and connected together around 1252. Originally it was gilded in gold and housed in a building, but both the building and the Buddha were washed away by a tsunami in the 16th century. The Buddha was retrieved and has sat in the open air since then, so the gilding has worn away. In the 1960s his neck was strengthened so that his head wouldn’t fall off, but the rest of him is the original 750-year old statue.

For an extra 20 yen you could go inside the statue, so (after the Turkish Speaker) we did. There was a little description of the building techniques and you could look up through the neck inside the head. Two windows on the back gave some light.

On the wall of the buildings outside were some large straw structures. I had no idea what they were, and only afterwards looking on the internet did I find out they were oversized sandals that the monks used to wear when cleaning the temple.

While we were sitting on the wall by the Buddha deciding what to do next, we were approached by a group of kids. They didn’t speak much English but had memorised some lines. “Can we ask you some questions?” “We are in the 6th grade.” “The 2020 Olympics will be in Tokyo. What sports do you want to watch?”

After we answered their questions (I said tennis!) they gave us an origami frog. Then one by one they asked us to sign the plastic cover of their project books. We gave them some banter – asking their names, the name of their school, giving them high-5s, then we asked for a photo which they were happy to provide. Their teacher then came up and checked we weren’t being harassed and asked if he could get a picture of all of us together!

The same thing happened again with another group of kids 10 minutes later. This time I got some origami chocolate. Nick and Dee got a whole envelope full of different origami! We decided to head off before the next group came.

On the way back to the station we passed three women in the street with small dogs, all the women and one of the dogs were wearing sunglasses! Dee got a photograph. At the station Nick said they would head back, but I decided to go and explore Yokohama. So we parted ways at Yokohama station – after an encounter with another Pepper robot there which intrigued Nick and Dee even though it couldn’t understand anything they said!

I only spent a couple of hours at Yokohama, I explored a movie theatre complex and a department store called Vivre which had some very unique Gothic-style fashions amongst many other stores.

I then headed to Minatomirai which Nick had assured me was the “happening” part of Yokohama. Not much was happening when I got there. There was a giant wheel with a clock, a fairground and a roller-coaster, there was a tall ship and another drained dock with a beautiful light show. It is probably more interesting in the daytime.

The Tourists

Tokyo Bay

On Nick and Dee’s second day we met up at lunchtime for a bus trip. For me it was only 7 stops along the Tozai line to Otemachi Station, which is in the same underground complex as what is known as Tokyo Station, underneath the old early 20th century Marunouchi Station building.

Marunouchi means “within the enclosure” and this district was originally inside the castle’s outermost moats. It was therefore a very prestigious place to live or own a business, and that carries through to today where this is the most prestigious business district of Tokyo.

The railway station underground is massive – it’s a good 10 minute walk from Otemachi Station to Marunouchi. It is not just subway trains, but this is the terminal for the bullet trains – shinkansen – coming into central Tokyo. At rush hour the place is absolutely heaving.

The bus tours run by a company Hatobus operate from outside the main station entrance, most of the offices and waiting rooms are under the railway arches of one of the overground lines. Nick and Dee wanted to do a hop-on hop-off bus but Hatobus didn’t offer this – they happily referred us to another company not far away that would – but we decided a straightforward one-hour bus tour would actually be less complicated and we could go back to any interesting places later in the afternoon.

We were too late for the 13:30 service (setting off in 3 minutes!) so we signed up for the 14:00 tour and had a drink while we waited. Our bus was a yellow double-decker open-topped bus. Even though it was 30th October, it was a warm, sunny day and I hadn’t brought my coat.

We got on board and most of the other passengers were Japanese from outside Tokyo, with the exception of two older guys from England – one of whom was actually South African, who had come for the Rugby World Cup and to their immense delight, both their teams had reached the final.

We knew the tour was in Japanese but we would be given devices that would provide information in English at certain GPS locations. These turned out to just be mobile phones. Unfortunately the volume was turned down and I never worked out how to get it up again, but Nick and Dee assured me that the spoken text was just the same as the written text that appeared on the screen.

The tour guide sat at the front of the bus, speaking only Japanese. From the phone we gathered some interesting tidbits, such as the building where the Americans had kept their headquarters after the end of the second World War, and the police headquarters (equivalent of Scotland Yard) and the Parliament building (known as the White Palace).

We skirted the southern side of the Imperial Palace gardens then went south into Toranomon Hills towards the Tokyo Tower. This was the original communication tower providing radio and TV services across Tokyo before Skytree was built. Unlike Skytree it didn’t have any aviation lights, which is why it was painted white and International Orange, so it could be easily seen by low-flying aircraft. All cranes in Tokyo (including the ones occasionally seen on top of buildings) have the same colour scheme.

From there, the bus headed onto the freeway (we were warned not to stand up as the bus was only just low enough to fit under the gate – in the event there was plenty of headroom – but we were also warned to hold on to our hats). This took us alongside Tokyo Bay and the waterfront area where many business districts stood on reclaimed land. We went over one of the waterways on the Rainbow Bridge, a beautiful long bridge, towards the Kachidoki area where I teach on Saturdays.

I learned that the Kachidoki Bridge (over the Sumida river) is actually a drawbridge that can open for river traffic. However because the roadway is so busy, and there has not been much river traffic in so many years, the last time it was opened was 1970. It is currently covered up for maintenance work.

We then went through the Ginza area and past the Kabuki theatre I had already seen, and then we were back in the mid-town area around the Imperial Palace (I had never realised Ginza was that close!). As we came back towards the station, the tour guide suddenly burst into song – some of the other Japanese tourists started clapping along or even singing also so it must have been a traditional Japanese song, maybe a famous song about Tokyo?

After getting off the bus we went to a tourist information centre where Nick and Dee explored the possibility of a guided river tour. Unfortunately none of the river services seemed to have a tour-guide option. Instead we headed to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

One of the pavements alongside the moat had been sealed off and was just reopened as we were crossing the road. As we went down we came across the unusual sight of a frogman in the moat, with a crane, a platform full of sand and a couple of other men. We could hear the frogman’s breathing and water bubbling around him as for some reason he was mic’ed up and a loudspeaker was broadcasting the sound.

Our best guess was that they were repairing or reinforcing the moat by putting more material in it. But we really had no idea, and especially no idea why the frogman noises needed to be so loud!

We walked down the the ceremonial entrance to the Imperial palace. There are other, less formal entrances and exits which are used day to day, but the Main Gate is the one used for important national ceremonies (and ambassadorial visits).

We arrived to see a policeman having a stern word with a group of seemingly Latin American tourists trying to take a group photograph with a banner. The policeman was talking softly, but he carried a big stick. Across the bridge were two palace guards at their guard posts, standing stock still, looking straight ahead like palace guards the world over. It was the guy with the very noisy strimmer between them who was catching everyone else’s attention. Eventually the Palace Gates opened a little and strimmer guy disappeared inside. Then the two guards did a strange changing-of-the-guard type manoeuver where they seemed to just swap sides.

Apparently the gate is open to the public on January 2nd when the Imperial Family make an appearance for New Year, so I might return, though it is likely to be very busy.

We wandered up to the East Gardens entrance I had visited in August, only to find it was closed. Winter closing time was an hour and a half earlier, and we spent too long at the Main Gate (and probably watching the frogman). Instead we found an Irish pub that served food in the shopping arcade under the Imperial Palace Hotel across the road, and sat chatting and supping drinks for an hour or two.

Then we went to Roppongi. This is known as one of the liveliest, wildest, most interesting nightlife centres in Tokyo. It was particularly lively the night before Halloween, and people in various costumes were walking around. The main street had a freeway running above it, and at one point we saw a group of go-karts piloted by various tigers, polar bears and fairies waiting at the traffic lights, then speeding off when they went green. Nick and Dee immediately decided they were going to do that tomorrow.

We wandered around looking for somewhere appropriate to stop and eat or have a drink. I was trying to find them something authentically Japanese so rather than just the touristy street-level stuff I was looking at the signs on the buildings for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th floor businesses. I vetoed an English-style Fish and Chips shop.

We found somewhere promising and went up the stairs only to be told “no tables.” But there was another restaurant on the 4th floor and after nosing around a little I found the lift. We went up and found pretty much what I was looking for.

It was a cozy little restaurant, it had some music playing, there were free tables. The tables had hotplates in the centre – one of the other parties there were cooking some vegetables in a bowl of boiling water. They brought menus which had enough English in them to get a vague idea of what they were serving.

Of course I played it safe by going for the fried chicken (Japanese style though), but Nick saw pufferfish on the menu (the notorious fish that can poison you if not prepared exactly right) and ordered that. And some fries. The fish arrived deep fried. So we ended up having fish and chips after all.


October has been Campaign Month – there have been advertisements on the Metro for my school and a couple of special events – I wasn’t involved because they were Sunday events and I had regular classes that were continuing anyway. And then last week was for Halloween Lessons – we had a special programme for all childrens’ classes involving Halloween vocabulary, papercraft ghosts and a fun game called Feed the Witch!

This week I was originally supposed to be doing training on Wednesday and Thursday – for Sunday workers only (because we missed other training days or events that took place on Sundays). But my managers offered me the option of taking those days as holidays if I worked extra days earlier in the month – which I did! I got to see two new offices (for me), Funabori (actually only a short bus ride from Nishi-Kasai) and Toyocho (two stops on the Tozai line). I found a big supermarket in Toyocho called Seiyu (owned by Walmart/Asda), which is the first place I’ve seen “proper” Pepsi Cola in large bottles. So I stocked up.

Anyway, this left me with a pleasant 3-day break leading up to the real Halloween, and it just so happened that this coincided with an old work colleague, Nick, coming to visit Tokyo with his wife Dee, ostensibly to celebrate Nick’s 30th birthday. I worked with him 2 careers and 5 jobs ago!

So I promised to meet up with him and the first meeting place that popped into my mind was the Skytree tower – the big communications tower you can see from my street, and indeed from half of Tokyo! I hadn’t been there yet and the views from the observation deck were said to be magnificent!

They managed to negotiate the metro system without problems, and met at Skytree Oshiage station. Nick had very kindly brought me a selection of Aero products and polo mints from the UK, after my frequently bemoaning their lack of availability in Japan. So it was already a winning day!

Unfortunately it wasn’t a clear day. It was pouring with rain and the sky was covered in cloud. The chances of a good view from the observation deck seemed minimal. So hoping it would clear up later, we decided to get some lunch then go in the adjoining Aquarium.

Lunch was for me and Dee some Japanese style fried chicken and fries, while Nick went for a bowl of Ramen and (on my suggestion) the Gindaco octopus balls. We then wandered about the shops in the mall for a while before heading over to the Aquarium.

Although Nick described this as “plan Z” it actually was a fascinating place. The first display was just some colourful, unnamed tropical fish in large tanks, with beautiful backdrops which contrasted their colours.

Next was the jellyfish display, starting with the absolutely beautiful Moon Jellyfish, in a floor-to-ceiling tank, just floating around leisurely, or occasionally contracting and expanding to propel themselves. Again the background (mainly light projections) and soundscape added to the whole other-worldly effect.

There were other jellyfish too – some with long, trailing tentacles, some which live upside-down on the sea floor, and four tanks showing moon jellyfish at 1, 2, 3 and 4 days old, showing how quickly they grow. Beyond this were tanks with other interesting specimens – lionfish, morays, those ubiquitous clownfish, pufferfish, porcupinefish, warty frogfish, and many more. And then there was the BIG tank…

This was a cavern-sized tank full of rocks. At first it seemed to be just larger fish, but then Dee spotted a massive eel – probably a metre and a half long – on some of the rocks towards the back. Just as we were adjusting our eyes to see that, a huge manta ray swam across our field of vision – about the size of a 4 or 5 year old child. And just as we were getting our heads round that, an actual SHARK appeared above us.

It turned out there were two eels and two manta rays – only one shark though. The window we were looking through was just a small observation point, around the corner you could see the full height of the tank across 2 floors. Beyond that were some more tanks, larger than the first room but not as big as the shark tank. One was full of funny little pencil-sized eels, their tails anchored in the sand, their bodies and heads leaning this way and that way trying to pluck food out of the water before a neighbouring eel got it first.

Underneath us (we were on the mezzanine level) was the Penguin Pool, and it appeared feeding time was starting just as we reached it. Four keepers in blue and black uniforms were handing fish to individual penguins and calling out names which one of them was checking off a list. It seems they were making sure each individual penguin got the right amount of food. The penguins had no time for that of course, they were just excitedly swimming in circles around the keepers, and as soon as one was chosen to get a fish, it was off like a rocket to an out-of-the-way part of the pool to enjoy its feast.

Behind us was a sealion pool (I’ve checked – the ones with the ears!) a fraction the size of the penguin pool, with four seals, each significantly larger than a penguin. It seemed such little space for these enthusiastic swimmers to swim around in, and they were retracing the same limited routes again and again and again.

Coming down from the mezzanine floor we went down a corridor with a digital display floor, with digital fish swimming across it. Whenever you put your foot on it, digital ripples spread out.

After Dee grabbed a turtle-cake from the amusingly named Penguin Cafe, we left the aquarium and went back to check the weather. Video screens showed the view from the observation deck, and whereas before it had been totally white, now there were some glimpses of city between the clouds. We decided it would be a shame not to go up and have a look, so we went to get our tickets.

Normally there are huge queues and international visitors have an advantage because they can buy slightly more expensive tickets to avoid the queues. But the attendant at the ticket desk told us there was no point paying more if there were no queues to jump, we may as well just get normal tickets. Very customer-minded service!

We got our tickets (no queue at all) and were guided by what seemed like an army of staff members into a large decorated elevator. We were supposedly going up to floor 350 but it didn’t take much detective work to find out that there weren’t any floors that didn’t divide by 5. So it was probably more like floor 70.

At the top there was basically a 360 degree observation ring. There were some touristy features like photo-boards (they would take your picture with a fancy camera and sell it to you, or with your own camera for free), interactive display windows, and information about what features were visible at each point on the ring.

Unfortunately the slightly-clearer-skies meant we could only see parts of the city within a mile or so of the base of the tower, beyond that there were only clouds. But it was still interesting to look down at the tiny rivers, bridges and buildings.

On floor 340 (or as I prefer to call it, 68) there was a glass-bottomed floor, through which you could see the tower falling away towards the ground, and on which you could stand with just a few centimetres of glass between you and a plummeting, hurtling, screaming death. I did it for a few seconds but then felt uncomfortably aware of my own mortality and backed away to the more reassuring few inches of steel.

As it was getting dark now there was even less to see than before so we headed back down to the ground. We made our way to the station and made provisional plans to meet up the next day for a bus tour. It was disappointing not to get the full Skytree panorama experience, but at least I can tick another Tokyo landmark off my “to do” list.

After the Storm

Another week, another typhoon. Except this one, Super Typhoon 19 Hagibis (meaning “speed” in Tagalog) was reported to be the strongest “in decades” and was going to pass right over central Tokyo.

I found out when I arrived at work on Friday that all lessons in all schools in the Tokyo region had been cancelled for both Saturday and Sunday (I already had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off, yay!) because of the typhoon. It was due to hit on Saturday and I was working late on Friday night. As a result I didn’t get an opportunity to “stock up” at my usual supermarket as it closed by the time I got home. I had noticed some of my students in the evening were carrying shopping bags, one explained he had been stocking up on his way home.

Elsewhere in Tokyo people had been stocking up on food and water leaving shelves empty. It wasn’t because they expected the storm to last a long time, but if it resulted in water and electricity being cut off for several days, they wanted to be prepared.

It was a genuine concern. Some parts of Tokyo are reclaimed land and very vulnerable to flooding. Other parts (like mine) have multiple rivers running through them. I didn’t find out until it was too late, but in my ward they recommended everyone evacuate to a public facility due to the risk of flooding.

I wasn’t too worried. I’m on the 2nd floor (in UK terms) and my building is nestled among many taller buildings. The Brazilian handyman guy who lives here (I presume in some official capacity – he’s always putting the rubbish out and tidying) had been taping up the windows and filling every available receptacle with water.

Through the morning and afternoon it was blustery but not especially powerful. I mostly slept through this stage. I didn’t go out but I heard lots of loudspeaker messages (either from mobile sound-cars or from the emergency public address system). I had no idea what they were saying, it could have been “everything is fine” or “flee for your lives!”

All the trains and buses were cancelled across the city. All the businesses were closed, even the 24-hour convenience stores. The streets were empty, apart from emergency vehicles and the odd private car taking a risky journey for who knows what important reason.

I could smell the ocean when I opened my Venetian-style windows a crack. That salty-ozone smell that tells you here, I’m dumping a small part of the Pacific Ocean all over your city.

It started to get especially fierce around teatime. The wind became a permanent background drone, like in a mountaineering or arctic explorer movie. The rain hammered against the windows. Sometimes the windows rattled a little from the wind.

I could hear banging from upstairs. I’d never been upstairs. I gingerly crept up to have a look. There was a door leading out to the roof, it was open, and swinging violently in the wind. There were a couple of pairs of slippers on the inside.

Wary of being sucked out and hurled off the roof (I may be overdramatizing a little), I edged along the wall, grabbed the door and secured it shut with the twist lock. Then I looked at the slippers. Was someone out there? Why would someone be out there? How desperate would someone be for a cigarette? Have I just trapped someone on the roof in a typhoon?

I opened the door again and stuck my head out. I couldn’t see anyone, but I couldn’t see the entire roof. I stuck my head out a bit further and tried to peek round the corner. All I could see was other buildings, driving rain and darkness. No-one would be crazy enough to be standing out there. If they were I’m sure I’d hear them banging the door in desperation. I locked the door and went back to my room.

My supply situation wasn’t bad. I couldn’t make any meals but I had a cup noodle, some tubs of ice-cream, cereal, crackers, chocolate, plenty of crisps and fizzy drinks, not a whole lot of water. It was around the time I was demolishing one of the ice-cream tubs that I heard something large and metallic crash, bounce a couple of times, and hit the ground. I still don’t know what it was, I thought it might be the outside part of my air-conditioning unit (it wasn’t). I had no desire to even open a window to try and look.

Water was coming through windows that were even closed and locked. I don’t know how. Not much but the odd drop. The big wire-mesh windows in the hallway, my best albeit still restricted view of the storm, were moving back and forward continuously. The trees in the precinct outside were taking a hell of a hammering. I saw a figure in the distance come out of one of the high-rise houses. I can’t think of any reason to explain why they would do that. I saw other people moving along the open balcony pathways from door to door, on the sixth floor! Not for all the money in the world!

For the first time I thought it might be prudent to check the internet for advice (I still had electricity and wifi). That’s when I found out about the evacuation centre in my ward. Definitely too late now. Anyway, there were plenty of other people in my sharehouse who had decided to just sit out the storm here.

Around 9 or 10 pm, the continual drone of the wind abruptly stopped. The rain pattered on for another hour or so then eventually it too ceased. The storm had passed.

Because I had napped most of Saturday afternoon, I stayed up all night and at 8am decided to go out and take a look at the damage. I’d never been to the riverside, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to make that walk.

For the first time since Friday, I opened the front door, and I saw… leaves. So many leaves, strewn across the steps down to the street. As I stepped out it wasn’t just leaves, whole branches were lying around.

There wasn’t really much debris, to be fair. For one thing, Japanese are so tidy that there wasn’t much out there to blow around in the first place, for another, they were already up cleaning and sweeping and tidying their little parts of the street.

It very quickly became clear that the major casualties of the typhoon in this part of Tokyo were umbrellas and bicycles. Splayed umbrella skeletons seemed to be wrapped around fences and lamp-posts at regular intervals. And anyone who had left their bicycle outside in a public parking space will be lucky if they come back to find it still there, never mind in one piece.

Several businesses had hand-written signs taped to their windows which I presume said “closed for the typhoon, back Sunday (or Monday). Sunny Mall seemed to be due to open at 10am as usual. Aeon Mall was already open! So my worry about not having stocked up was unnecessary.

I kept walking in the direction of the river, taking occasional pathetic pictures of the “devastation” (oh look, that tree is leaning slightly. This trellis has come apart from the wall) to the bemusement of locals. I don’t think I’m going to win a Pulitzer for this one.

The walk was worth it for the river view though. It is actually 2 rivers running alongside each other, the larger Arakawa river, and the Naka river on the east side. The thin embankment that separates them supports an overhead motorway. Neither river seemed particularly close to overflowing, and like the rest of my walk the amount of debris visible was minimal.

On the way back I passed some of the houses that live on the other side of the Naka embankment, below the normal level of the river. These had quite sensibly set out sandbags and other precautions against potential flooding, and I could see why the evacuation centres might have been necessary after all.

It was a hot, sunny morning. Not just short-sleeve weather, it was swimsuit weather, in the middle of October. People were out and about, kids playing in the street, mamas on their bicycles with kids front and rear, older folks sweeping and tidying and fussing. Typhoons come and go but the good people of Tokyo endure.

Hadaka Matsuri

After my health problems of the last month or so, I decided a little sea air outside the city would be helpful.  It just so happened that I had no lessons scheduled on 23rd September, which just so happened to be the first day of the Ohara Hadaka Matsuri – known (not wholly accurately) as the Naked Festival.

This is not unique to the town of Ohara, which lies on the Pacific side of the Chiba headland to the south-east of Tokyo.  Many towns have a similar festival which is a ritual to bring a good harvest and a fruitful year of fishing.  The “naked” part comes about because participants are expected to carry religious shrines into the ocean, and obviously you don’t want to do that fully dressed.  However, it is only usually the chest and shoulders left uncovered (and for women only the shoulders), with the costume having evolved into white scrubs, a white wrap for the belly/lower chest, wellington boots and a headband.  There are also some strange black felt arm supports, probably to help the men who have to lift the shrines.

The journey to Ohara was a long one for me – over 2 hours – I already knew the line to Chiba City quite well, though I had never been past Inage station, from Chiba there is a cross-country Sotobo line, going through the other big city in Chiba, Mobara.  I had to wait over an hour for the next train on that line.  But I had set off early anticipating such delays.  I wasn’t even totally sure my Pasmo card would work outside Tokyo, so I had plenty of cash with me in case I needed it.

The journey was interesting – lots of rice fields, with what I thought was a single model white heron in each, until I finally caught one moving!  It was a windy day, I saw one woman on a bicycle lose her hat to the wind, the train was too fast for me to see if she got it back.


Finally at about half past one the train pulled into Ohara and thankfully I wasn’t the only one getting off at this stop, it seemed quite popular.  There were lots of taxis around and people waiting, and I wasn’t sure which way to go.  The town was in front of me but I knew (from the direction of the train) the beach had to be on the other side of the railway tracks.


I wandered up the street into the town and fortunately spotted a Tourist Information Centre straight away.  I went inside – it was not very large, and greeted the staff, who straight away asked me if I was going to the festival.  They thrust a map in my hand and gave me simple directions in English (the map was marked in Japanese only), and I set off for the beach.

As I had calculated, it was on the other side of the tracks.  I passed a few other people from my train some of whom looked uncertain where they were supposed to go.  I reassured an Australian guy and his Japanese girlfriend they were heading the right way and explained what the tourist information people had told me.


It was about a 20-minute walk but I was not alone, there was a steady stream of people heading in the same direction.  As we got closer to the beach I started seeing more and more people wearing the white open-chested costume of the festival.  To my surprise (I thought it was a man thing) there were also women dressed in the costume, though obviously a lot more modestly outfitted.

Eventually I reached the port and spotted a huge crowd of costumed revellers gathering around one particular building, so I headed in that direction.  It wasn’t just men and women, there were people of all ages – older men, young boys and girls, all dressed up for the festival.  There were a handful of Western tourists like me there too, some carrying fancy camera equipment.

After mingling in the crowd for a while I checked the back of the building where they were setting up some kind of ceremony – there were barriers leading to a podium next to the quayside, and some old men in fancy costumes reading out dedications and introductions.

Inside the building was a row of shrines, each one protected by its group – let’s say it’s krewe – with a distinctive coloured headband to identify each team.  Each shrine was mounted on two long beams of wood so they could be carried.  They were beautifully designed, ornate pieces of art, with models of eagles carrying plants in their mouths to reflect the wishes for a good harvest.

Back on the stage, the master of ceremonies was moving various artifacts around – there was a tree branch, a vase of either oil or more probably alcohol, and a bow with a couple of arrows.  On the table in front of him were examples of the harvest they hoped would be fruitful – fruit, vegetables and shrimp – one particular shrimp being a speciality of the town.

Suddenly they all started coming my way.  They were heading along the barriered path towards to podium on the water’s edge.  There, the first man wafted the branch 3 times, the holder of the vase poured some of the liquid into the sea, and a third guy with the bow fired off both arrows.  Everyone cheered, and they went back to their little stage area, where there were a couple more rituals to complete (seemingly involving drinking from saucers).

I was wandering around taking everything in when suddenly a cheer went up and people started moving very definitively in one direction.  Then I saw one of the shrines was on the move.  The young (and not so young) men of the town were carrying it, with a breathless rhythmic chant, and the other shrines weren’t far behind them.

I took a couple of pictures then trotted along beside one of the shrines.  Each had a team of carriers and supporters – the carriers were almost all men, but the supporters included women and young children.  Bells and whistles could also be heard.

They were moving very fast – I’m normally a fast walker but when there is a crowd of people around you all moving at different speeds, it is hard to go at your natural pace.  The shrines headed up the road, but most of the crowd seemed to take a short cut to what would be the ultimate destination of the beach.  After a moment of indecision I followed the crowd rather than the shrine.

The short cut didn’t turn out to be that much shorter and most of the shrines got ahead of us.  But they slowed down a bit as they arrived at the beach and positioned themselves in their respective places to wait for the signal to head for the sea.

The beach, like most mainland Japanese beaches, had dark grey volcanic sand.  It was a protected cove, with an artificial spit made from large rocks going out in the bay to give the beach shelter on one side at least.  It was windy on this side of Chiba too and small particles of sand continually bombarded everyone on the beach.

I tried to find a good position for pictures, and figured this would be as close to the sea as possible.  Of course lots of other people had the same idea.  I had some advantage being a tall Westerner that I could just stand behind everyone else.  But some of the ever-ingenious Japanese still outsmarted me, they had brought little stepladders!

One of the other photographers started chatting with me – he even gave me his business card – but in the middle of our conversation, one of the krewes started shouting and suddenly they were running towards the sea, and the crowd and their cameras were running alongside them!

It was a bit of an anticlimax I suppose, they just ran in up to their knees, then kind of stopped.  But the other shrines were coming now, and there seemed to be some sort of ritual about the positioning they were supposed to take.  All the shrines went into the water and lined up alongside each other, and then they started bobbing up and down in a not-entirely choreographed manner.

The next 15-30 minutes was just confusing to me.  They came out of the water.  They went back into the water.  They threw their shrines in the air.  They came out again.  They started to leave.  They came back.  They went back into the water again.  Sometimes two shrines would line up side by side and have a throwing competition.  Sometimes one of the krewe members took a place at the front of the shrine and did some strange singing, dancing, chanting or waving their head around in a strange way.

All the krewes seemed to do some throwing their shrine up and down on the beach before they left.  Eventually the last shrine left the water.  By now I had taken up position on the rocky spit.  There were a couple of marshals there for safety, and every now and then a big wave hit the far side of the spit and caught some people by surprise – I fortunately avoided getting hit.

I came back down onto the beach and started making my way back towards the town, and then I ran into the Australian guy again.  He introduced himself as Rus, a graphic designer, and his girlfriend Tomomi.  They had missed all the rituals at the start but he got a lot of pictures of the shrines in the sea.  We walked back together discussing Japanese life, I got a picture of them with the festival posters.

On the way back into town we passed several shrines with krewes resting on the ground in various states of collapse.  For them this was only the first part of their day!  Back in the main street of the town, it was festival time.  The roads were closed to traffic, there were stalls set up all along the street selling food, souvenirs and competitive games.  I bought some fries with garlic salt, one of the few foods available that didn’t involve tentacles.

After an hour or so the shrines all started moving again.  First one way down the street, then, after the had all lit their lanterns, they started heading back towards the centre of town (I’m not sure, but probably the big shrine in the middle).  I figured time was getting on and I was a long way from home and should think about getting back.

I hopped on a train heading for Tokyo, thinking it was just as good as the ones for Chiba, but unusually this train actually had a conductor collecting tickets and I had to pay an extra 930 yen.  I say extra because I had swiped in to enter the station as usual, when I swiped out at Tokyo station, I still got charged 1660 yen!  So in total that journey cost almost 3000 yen.  But I guess I got home a lot quicker taking the express route.

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I had a really good day! It was great to get out of the city and to spend a day actually sampling some kind of authentic Japanese culture. It was bizarre and funny and gave me some great photos for the blog! My cough seemed to disappear, the sun shone (even if the wind never stopped) and I found myself chatting to different people, events like this seem to make everyone more approachable and interested in you. I hope I can travel to a few more places as interesting as Ohara!



“The weather reports say the typhoon will arrive on Monday” one of my students said nonchalantly.  This was the first I had heard of it.  “A typhoon?  Here?  In Tokyo?”  “Yes” my student confirmed.

Then when I was at the hospital waiting for my appointment, I saw weather reports showing a big swirly circular thing just south of Tokyo.

Then I didn’t hear any mention of it again over the whole weekend.  The weather was great on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday night it hit.

I was safely ensconced in my room with all the supplies I needed but I could hear the torrential rain.  When I went to the bathroom, the floor was wet because rain had blown in through the window – a window that faces across a narrow alley.  The worst of it came overnight, by morning it was calm again but the effects were still being felt.

I was supposed to be at the kindergarten in Ichikawa at 9.00 am so I was up, showered, dressed and ready to go – I saw there were delays on the local subway line and thought it worth emailing the office, I got a message back confirming the morning lessons were cancelled.

My next lesson was in the Inage area at 6pm so I was able to go back to bed for a while, but I made sure I was up and ready to go with plenty of time to spare as I suspected there would still be problems with the railways.

The Tozai subway line was fine, but when I got onto the JR Sobu line heading towards Chiba City, things got difficult.  The first train took me to Tsudanuma station, the next one to Makuhari, but it was clear that no trains on this line were going any further south than that.

Chiba is the headland that lies to the east and south of Tokyo, masking it from the Pacific Ocean – it looks a bit like Florida.  It took the brunt of the typhoon and clearly they weren’t yet convinced that the railway lines were safe to operate.  I followed a couple of other people who looked equally confused as I was, and one of them approached a station official asking about Chiba?  He got the “no way” hand signal and a shake of the head.  That wasn’t good.

But I wasn’t going all the way to Chiba, I just needed to get to Inage.  So I tried asking the same official “Inage?”  He gave a bit more of a positive answer but pointed me to the line going back the way I had come.  He kept saying the word “Keisei” which I eventually understood to be an alternative train line.  I figured I could connect with the Keisei line at the previous station, Makuharihongo.

I had to wait a while for the train to go back, but I wasn’t alone.  I saw a Caucasian guy with a backpack on the platform, he got on the same train and also got off at Makuharihongo.  As I was jogging up the stairs (already conscious of the time) he asked if I was going to Chiba.

It turned out he was from Iceland and had a flight booked at 10pm that evening (it was about 5pm by this point) and needed to get to Narita airport.  But so many train lines were down, the buses were intermittent and the lines for the taxis were massive, with few taxis to be seen.  He hoped that it would be easier to make a connection from Chiba, a bigger town with direct airport routes.

We found the Keisei line and I worked out how many stops I needed.  When the train came, and I saw the “Chi” character on the front, I said looks like it is going to Chiba, but then when I checked again it was another station (something like Chiba-Chuo) so everything was a little up in the air again, but once on the train and checking the line diagrams, it was clear Chiba-Chuo was after Chiba, so the train would get us both where we needed to be.

I wished him good luck and got off at Inage – but this was not the Inage station I knew, it was a smaller, parochial station – Inage Keisei.  Still more or less on schedule I would have to find my way to the main station where the bus stop I needed was.

No bus information

Fortunately the main station was signposted (not well signposted, but well enough for me to find it at the first attempt) and I was at the bus stop at just about my usual time.  However, unlike normally, there was no bus information on the display boards.

I had been trying to get an internet connection and then a clear connection to my email server so I could update the office.  I think there must have been problems with the internet infrastructure on top of everything else.  So at this point I just called Shugo at the office and explained where things stood.  He authorised me to get a taxi to the site.

I couldn’t see any taxis so I went out the back of the station and hunted around a little, when I came back to the front I saw the bus I needed just pulling away!  It came at just the wrong time for me!  I thought I can catch it – I know the route, and started sprinting across the square.  It takes the buses ages to get past all the lights and crossings so I thought I could make it easily.  But I went in the wrong direction, left instead of right.

The taxi rank

Now I was not just probably late, but also out of breath, and hot and sweaty.  I returned to the bus stop and found the queue for the taxi rank – right next to the bus stop!  It was hard to recognize because normally a taxi rank has a few taxis at the front, but here there were none.  I waited in the line (I did confirm with the lady in front of me that this was the taxi queue) and also knew that I could keep an eye on the buses that came and went.

There are two main routes – the 41, and the 31-32-33 route.  41 goes nowhere near where I need, of the others 31 and 32 are good, 33 not so good.  Only 41s and 33s seemed to be coming in today.  The only 32 I saw was the one I had chased earlier.

I updated Shugo again explaining there were no taxis or buses, and I was probably going to be late if I could even get there at all.  He said he would get back to me.  In the hour between my finding the taxi queue and Shugo finally confirming that the lesson would be cancelled for the day, a total of 2 taxis came.  There were still 7 people ahead of me in the queue.  No more 31 or 32 buses appeared.

Inage Station – normally so busy, closed for business

Now I had the not entirely simple task of getting myself home again.  Inage Station was basically closed, there were no trains going anywhere.  I traipsed back to Inage Keisei.  On the way I passed a group of firemen considering what to do about a big telegraph pole that had blown over into a building.


The Keisei station was a lot busier than I imagine it normally is, and there were lots of little buzzing insects forming a globe around each station light, and intermittently attaching themselves to my shirt.  When the train came it was standing room only at first, though I got a seat after a few stops.

Inage Keisei Station

Rather than getting off at Makuharihongo, I took my chances and stayed with the train up to Funabashi.  I needed to do a little hop to Nishi-Funabashi to connect with the Tozai line but that was simple enough.  In the end I got home a lot more quickly than the journey out.

Now I admit, I wasn’t personally exposed to any extreme weather and my story of transportation logistics may not be the stuff adventures are made of, but for the normally so punctual and reliable Japanese transport systems, this was a big deal.  I came so close to navigating the chaos and reaching my destination against the odds, but it wasn’t to be, I was stymied at the final hurdle.  This time I did all I could.