It had only been 10 hours into 2017, and I had already been chastised by a policeman, harassed by a homeless man and intercepted an attempted robbery.
But first things first..
I’ve never been one to celebrate New Years Eve, wherever I am on the night. Fortunately, the sheer amount of people in the streets of Tokyo and the icy cold wind had reinforced my decision to retreat indoors for the evening. What followed was a few drinks with my fellow capsule-dwellers, and a chat via text with a lovely man in Australia. Before I knew it, the time was 2:00am.
It was 9:00am on the 1st of January when I emerged from my cocoon andpacked up in preparation to change hotels. The Japanese are sticklers for punctuality. It was only a week prior that I was yelled at for arriving at Reception at 10:04am. I casually arranged my luggage in a pile outside Reception and nipped to the store 20 metres away to grab breakfast.
Breakfast sourced, I headed back towards my luggage. It was then that I noticed a Japanese man casually walking down the street carrying something that looked strangely like my leather cosmetics bag. I jogged after him and said “excuse me, but I think that’s mine.” He handed it over, mumbled something inaudible in Japanese and continued on his way. It was only after I returned to my pile of luggage that I realised that he had made off with my can of Acai energy drink. Which, in the scheme of things, was ok. I was just sooo relieved that he hadn’t picked up the bag to the left which contained my MacBook Pro and two iPhones. Besides, at the pace that he was moving, he clearly needed the can of energy drink more than I did.
This is a valuable lesson for all travellers- choose a cosmetics/toiletries bag that looks stylish enough to pass as a handbag. Actually, he really should have thanked me for interrupting his criminal activity. I had saved him from the absolute shame that he would have encountered when he returned to gangland HQ. His equally dodgy mates would bring back iPads and jewellery, whereas he would have contributed..... a bag containing a plethora of half-used Mecca Cosmetica makeup and a month’s supply of disposable ‘Fresh Look’ contact lenses.
Post-burglary-interception, I took a taxi to my new hotel and left my bags there. Strong coffee and something called a VitaCig were next on the agenda. Coffee was easy to source. Despite being a non-smoker for a significant period of time now, a friend had given me something called a VitaCig. No tobacco, no nicotine, but packed full of vitamins. The prevailing wisdom of the developers was that when you inhaled, you absorbed the vitamins through the roof of your mouth. No lighter required. I was sampling this weird creation with my coffee when I was literally shooed off the pavement by an angry policeman. Complete with waving arms. I’m not sure if that particular move is taught at Tokyo Police Academy, but I later saw him use it on another innocent bystander. The problem with being chased onto the street was that I was instantly set upon by a homeless man who smelt like tuna and wanted to have a long conversation. It was a fascinating chat, with him ranting in Japanese while I kept nodding politely and taking tentative steps backwards.
So, why move hotels? Very simply, it had gotten to the stage where I had to leave my hotel in a disguise at night. The problem was that from around 9:00pm onwards, Nigerian touts would roam the streets directly outside of my hotel, trying to coerce foreigners into bars. If they were successful, the bar gives them a cut of whatever the foreigner spends on drinks. I was an obvious target- being female, alone and caucasian. At first, one of the touts would walk next to me, ask me my name and then ask me why I didn’t want to talk to him. Then it progressed to several of these huge guys blocking my path. I took to the usual methods of trying to avoid someone- earphones in my ears, pretending to be engaged in an important phone call, etc. I made sure that I was dressed as conservatively as possible. Nothing seemed to make much difference. Even changing routes and cutting through a lane at the back of my hotel wasn’t successful. These touts were literally everywhere.
It all came to a head one night when one of them actually grabbed me by the arm. I had absolutely had enough. A quick pit stop at my favourite store Don Quijote (yes, they have spelt it incorrectly) ensured that I was now attired in a very fetching multi-coloured beanie (complete with wooden plaits) and surgical mask. I added my prescription glasses to the ensemble and felt much better. Even though I was curvier and taller than your average Japanese woman, my blonde hair and fair skin were now covered. I could now walk into my hotel without attracting a second glance from any tout.
Onto culinary matters, I began a love-affair with the fresh dumplings sold at 7/11. These became my staple breakfast. Pizza, chicken and seafood were my favourites. I’ve never been a pork fan (with the exception of bacon) so those dumplings were out. However...
“They don’t sell beef dumplings...” I whined down the phone to a friend.
“What? Of course they do. I’ll come with you”
Accompanied by said pal the next day, I wandered myself into the nearest Lawson’s Store. It soon became apparent what the problem was.
“They think that you are asking for a root.”
“Beet, not beef. Beet. Root. You’ll have to either ask for gyu niku or make some horns on the top of your head with your hands.”
There were two casualties of the trip. Firstly, my prescription Ray Ban sunglasses. I’m not usually a loser of possessions. But I had left them somewhere. I went to an optometrist to order a new pair as I had been surviving wearing my huge Dolce & Gabbana ‘Jackie-O’ style sunglasses courtesy of 2005. Yuck. What the hell was I thinking back then?? Anyway, getting across that I wanted the lenses to be ‘polarised’ was quite a challenge. The lady serving me kept repeating “polaroid, polaroid.” Admittedly, I do own a Polaroid Instax camera, but I had left it in Australia. Besides, this was hardly the time to take a selfie together to memorialise this frustrating occasion.
As it turned out, she actually meant ‘polarised’. Now we were on the same page. Transaction complete, I dashed out of the store to catch a train. However, half an hour later, I could not remember the name of the store, or where it was located...
Secondly, I had purchased the most gorgeous pair of black woollen Chloe gloves, with a little leather bow on each wrist. On my final day in Tokyo, I was wearing both gloves for most of the day. I arrived at Narita airport with only one glove in my possession. I still have that one glove. It is a sad reminder, but still so kawaii.
Things that I will miss about Japan:
Alcohol being sold 24/7 at 7/11. Tokyo’s hours of operation, many places from 10am to 4am. Capsule hotels. Don Quijote.
Things that I will not miss about Japan:
Having consistently cold ears. Taxi drivers that blatantly exploit foreigners by driving them the longest possible route to their destination. Love Hotels with signs that state that if you’re not Japanese, you’re not welcome.
The morning of my very last day in Tokyo (pre-glove loss) I kept despairing about my new Ray Bans. I had paid for them in full when they were ordered.
I needed to find that optometrist....
Post Script: Out of sheer desperation, I ended up shoving the receipt for my glasses in front of a taxi driver. He was able to interpret it, and drove me to the store Paris Miki. I was then able to collect my glasses. They look ridiculous. Really too big for my face and an odd shape that makes my nose look even rounder. What the hell was I thinking??