The rest of my time in Tokyo switched from hardcore sightseeing to more laidback mooching around.
I decided not to go to Osaka or any of the other cities I’d been planning on visiting – yes, an earthquake was kept me from the Kobe earthquake museum. I was glad that I hadn’t been able to find the office on Friday morning to exchange my Japan Rail voucher into a non-refundable ticket.
The only thing I had really wanted to do in Tokyo was visit Disneyland. But it was closed due to post-quake safety checks being needed, and the car park was cracked and flooded from liquefaction.
Because Tokyo was so far from the earthquake-affected regions, it almost felt like all the devastation was taking place in a different country. It was something I watched on TV. It was not something I experienced. My relation to the devastation felt distant, like if I was in a nearby but foreign city like Seoul or Vladivostok.
On Saturday, James and I spent the day exploring Harajuku. I also discovered I was a victim of kafunsho, a particular kind of Japanese hayfever brought on by cedar pollen – and there’s a lot of cedar around Tokyo. I was sneezing, coughing, my eyes were red and itchy – it felt like I had a cold but with none of the general unwellness. It didn’t occur to me to go to a chemist and buy an antihistamine spray until my very last day.
One of my favourite unintentional games to play was Getting Lost on the Way Back to My Hotel. I was a bit bored by the main route back to the hotel, so I’d always mix it up by taking a side street. Or at least I tried to.
More often than not, I’d end up lost, wandering the streets of Shinjuku at night, passing by interesting looking bars, occasionally stopping to get a bottle of water from a vending machine, and hoping I was heading in the right direction. Then I’d eventually spy a familiar landmark (or Google Map it) and end up at my hotel.
On Sunday, I switched hotels to the charming Ace Inn Shinjuku. It’s a capsule hotel, but with more of a social backpacker feel to it. Other guests tended to be tourists who where having a “WTF do I do now?” moment, and Japanese who were stuck in Tokyo.
We paid another visit to Harajuku. In the mid-’00s, Harajuku was known for the loligoth girls who’d dress up in crazy styles and hang out by Jingu bridge on Sundays to be all outrageous and fashionable. But I think Gwen Stefani made them too mainstream, so they’ve kind of died off. The only people left on the bridge were three guys doing the “free hugs” thing, one of whom was a perculiar performance artist called Old Boy.
More fun was Two Rooms, a fancy rooftop bar that James remembered from his last visit to Tokyo. We sat outside in the sun and drank Bloody Marys, quietly enjoying the cool spring afternoon. Around us, expats sat drinking and eating – no one talked about the earthquake. Well, it’s nice to have a change of topic once in a while.
Leaving the bar, the maitre d’ discovered we were from New Zealand and excitedly insisted we meet the manager, also a New Zealander. So we had this funny little talk, like “Hello, fellow New Zealander! I am from Wellington! What about that earthquake, eh? Righto. Sayonara.” But he was a very nice guy and it’s a splendid bar if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.
On the street, old dudes from the local branch of Lions International were collecting for the Red Cross. I gave them some yen.
We went to Roppongi (which, if you’re a New Zealander, you pronounce Roppo-ngi, rather than Roppon-gi). It’s the good-time, party-time, on-and-on-till-the-break-of-dawn district, full of hundreds of different ways of spending all your money, thinking you’re going to get a root, and waking up with just a hangover. But, of course, because I was there, none of that happened. I couldn’t even get the photobooth to work.
Nearby was Tokyo Tower, with its top spire slightly bent from being shaken about in the earthquake. I’m glad I wasn’t up there when the earthquake hit.
When I got back to my hotel on the Friday evening, I found a table had moved about 30cm, a lamp on the table had fallen down the newly-created gap between the table and the wall, and in the bathroom, most bottles were tipped over or on the floor. I straightened everything up, and was just really glad I hadn’t been at the hotel when the earthquake happened.
I think I experienced the quake in quite a good place. Shinjuku Station is, I believe, base isolated (or a similar technology) so the effect of the quake wasn’t too severe in the building.
But I’ve heard people on the street had a much worse experience. I met a woman from California who had lost her balance and fallen over with the shaking and had injured her arm.
Back in Shibuya, we had a look around the mad variety store Don Quijote. It’s full of everything you could possibly need, and several things you don’t need, which are the ones you end up buying. I bought some fake glasses, and James bought a watch. As he was sorting out the tax-claim details, the shop assistant asked where we were from. When we said New Zealand, she gave us her commiserations for Christchurch. But, but…
We had dinner in a ramen bar in Ebisu. The chef, who had pretty good English, told us there’d been no rice on Saturday due to the delivery truck not being able to get through. But there was plenty of rice now, and ample supplies of delicious ramen.
I’d had quite a few requests from different media outlets wanting comments from me – Radio New Zealand, the Guardian, NPR, TV3, Newstalk ZB, and Classic Hits Waikato. A lot of them were hooked up via friends in the media, so I felt a little obliged to help out, but I think if I were in a similar situation again, I limit myself.
Not all of those eventuated into an actual interview, and some of the ones I did were a bit rubbish, with the reporter obviously angling for a “MY QUAKE HELL” story, with one telling me that “the shock” probably hadn’t caught up with me yet (what?).
The best interview was with Mark Bunting, the breakfast host of Classic Hits Waikato. I knew him from my old job at TVNZ, and he’s a nice guy. But as well as that, I figured it would be likely that my parents would be able to tune in and hear me. And they did.