Faster Than A Speeding Bullet Train

Getting around to appointments in Tokyo has been like Amazing Race meets Mah Jong meets Godzilla vs. Mothra. Pretty much a confusing race against time trying to decipher and match symbols to my map while the entire city of Tokyo flees before me in panic (or maybe just to get to work I guess).

I dragged the two mega-suitcases through the terminal at Shinjuku at rush hour. Boarded a local train at rush hour! Then dragged them through Tokyo station to find something we only dreamed about when we were kids, something on par with AJ Foyt and a Formula One car. The Bullet Train!

OK, coming over what must be impossibly small grades in some places the train moves so fast you can feel your stomach drop just a tad. The drag of a passing train makes the whole world shudder. And let me tell you when a 15+ car train (who can count?) passes you in the opposite direction in less than one second, your heart does its own lurching. It’s like someone has turned the speed of the movie up to the point of blurring, some exotic and neurotic dream sequence. Going into tunnels or passing the other train causes the entire car to squeeze in like a lung expanding and contracting. The seams creak a bit and the windows bow with the air pressure. It’s incredible.

I will roll into Osaka tonight after 10 pm, find my hotel, collapse, wake up confused and unfocused and do it all over again.

…..

I wake up ten minutes before my stop and start gathering my things. I pull out my stack of hotel/plane reservations and go to where Osaka is… make that should be! Nothing there. No hotel sheet. What happened? At the station I circle the suitcases and try to catch wifi to check my emails. Can’t. A Japanese man offers his laptop as I explain what a dolt I am. We can’t access my email. I dig through stacks of papers and the best I can come up with is a map with a hotel circled that my predecessor used last year. If I made a reservation, it’s there. We google it, call it… nothing. I make a reservation at 11:30 pm, take the local train there, drag the wagons a few blocks to my hotel, and sometime after midnight I make the long anticipated collapse on a bed. This paragraph conveys nothing of the exhaustion and self-loathing that accompanied this little reservation snafu. And the man who helped me thought nothing of how much effort he put into saving my arse. People are SO quick to help here and do so with sleeves rolled up. Ask for directions (and typically I don’t ask – I just stop at a corner and squint at my map and someone approaches me before I can ask) and the person will not just point or rattle of directions, he or she will walk you there. I know this is not universal, but there are enough examples for me to know there is a significant segment of the population that is this kind and helpful.

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