Monday, August 25

Izu, Izu, Izu (Part I)

Sorry - I posted this yesterday but forgot to change the date, so it went back into the archives....but here it is! Parts 2 and 3 to follow.... I'm also sorry it's jumping around a bit; this happened back on the weekend of August 1st - I'll get back to mine & Jo-Anna's adventures after the Izu adventures...

In the short seven months that I've been in Japan, I have had many adventures. All good, some slightly sketchy (Mt. Fuji . . . a little nerve wracking). But this weekend, I had one that can beat all previous adventues down with a stick...

Warning: It's a long one. A really long one.

Izu Peninsula is about 100km southwest of Tokyo. It's got beaches and onsens and coastlines and views of Mount Fuji... 'twas here that we planned to meet. Myself, Rumiko, Alex, and Keith planned one last hurrah (for me & Keith, anyways) - to Izu.

This time, intead of night-bussing it, Rumi & I decided it would be more efficient to use the Seishun 18 Kippu (Seasonal 18 Ticket). Never again. Never, ever again. Actually - the ticket was great; unlimited rides on JR trains for a few days for a reasonable price. Our problem was when we were travelling.... through the night. Most trains in Japan sleep from around 12:00 to 5:30am. We were fortunate to find a night route to get us to Izu. We planned to arrive at 3:35am and explore a bit, before the guys met us from Tokyo at a more reasonable morning hour. The plan was great, and timed to a tee, with no room for error. We figured that was alright.

I took the train from Osaka to Omihachiman, where Rumi joined me. We were excited and talkative and planning the weekend from the pages of information that Rumi had gathered. We chatted and giggled and tapped our toes, until as the doors swooshed shut on the train, Rumi said, "Is this Maibara?" Oh yes, we missed our stop. Not good. So we got off at Sakata (the next stop) and ran like madwomen (literally) to the other platform, hoping to catch the next train back to our 15 minutes. Normally, this would be fine. But in our case, it meant we would probably miss our next transfer, onto the last train of the evening. Not good - why? If this happened, we would be spending the night in a station. But, not to worry -

I've gotten a lot better at not worrying about things while I've been in Japan. So we decided that since there was really nothing we could do except catch the next train, we (briefly) explored the station we were at, and waited. It was in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by fields. Fortunately, there were some statues willing to pose for pictures. We caught the next train, and transfered from Maibara.

We did indeed-ee miss our next transfer at Ogaki. So we (again) ran like madwomen to catch the last train to Nagoya. We figured we would get as far as we could. Which was Nagoya. When we arrived in Nagoya (at 12:30), we inconvenienced the ticket clerk to help us figure out the next possible trains, until we noticed that they were waiting for us to they could close the station. Close the station. So much for spending all night inside the station...we'll be spending all night outside the station.

Welcome to Nagoya. We left the station, and decided that what we really needed was nourishment and liquids. We were a bit in shock that we were actually stuck in Nagoya until early the next morning. We picked up some sandwiches and bottled tea, and planted ourselves on some bus stop chairs. We called Keith (who turned out to be the lifesaver of the weekend), who google'd and hyperdia'd us a plan for the morning. We would leave Nagoya at 5:30am, and hopefully get to Izu by 10:20am. Good plan.

Next plan. Sleep. It is important to note that we did not plan on staying in Nagoya, had no maps or information, and also that hotels, ryokans, inns, etc, have curfews and closing times, in Japan. So we really were going to be outside all night.

Now - before you worry, let me assure you that we were in a populated place, staying together, and staying on main roads. And I put on my mean face whenever we passed anyone the least bit suspicious. We interrogated a couple street punks, got an old lady's purse back, roughed up some mafia members, and had quite a reputation - so we were safe. Just kidding. But we were being safe.

In the spirit of safeness, we decided to try and sleep in a clean, lit, public place. Beside the bus stop was a hotel (closed) with a nice parkade area. It fit the bill, so we wandered inside the shallow entrance. We found a bench! A nice, cushioned bench! Rumiko exclaimed, "We're so lucky!", and I agreed, "I know!!" . . .

before we realized that two lucky people would not be stuck in a strange city sleeping outside all night. So we laughed at ourselves, and set up our lucky bench. I also found a smaller bench around the corner, so we made sort of an L shaped bed, against the wall, with our heads together. We wrapped the straps of our bags and purses around our arms, and laid down to try and catch a few Z's.

I have to admit - despite being in a fairly safe area, it was creepy. Once or twice I lifted my head to look around. Then Rumiko said, "Steph...". I lifted my head to see a Dirty and Wrinkled Old Man (DWOM) standing half behind a column, watching us. I promptly sat up, and gave him my most challenging glare. He looked again, and then wandered away. We were completely freaked out, and decided that this was not a good plan. We decided to relocate to the 24hour McD's across the street. When we got to the corner, the DWOM was there too, so we stayed there so he couldn't follow us. He went towards the McD's, so we went the other way - back towards the station.

At the station, there were quite a few people sprawled out on and around the entrance, sleeping. There was also lights and a station security guard. We decided to make the station entrance our alternately napping place for the night. There were also a couple guys a few meters down from us with BMX bikes. They had a little area set up with some snacks and sweaters lying around, and were BMX'ing and sitting around (henceforth called the Bike Boys).

We spent a couple hours talking, giggling, and telling stories about previous adventures, relationships, and experiences. We also tried to work up the courage to ask the cute Bike Boys if we could take a video of them, and then (it's all about starting with the baby step) if they would teach us some bike tricks. Two caucasian men walked by (45 ish), and said, "where ya going...?" before suggesting that we join them in their hotel room. Fortunately, they didn't stop walking while they talked, and I think the looks on our face of disgust and horror kept them from stopping. It was a strange moment, for me. And not pleasant.

We also encountered another Very Strange Man (VSM). The VSM was another little old guy, but dressed in a business suit. He was hanging around an area several meters in front of us. He alternately sat down, walked in circles, and yelled random things. Then he proceeded to pull out some paper towels and wipe his feet and then wander around with those, throwing them in the air. He was indeed very strange. Finally, despite the VSM and the hard pavement, Rumiko fell asleep. I rested and relaxed a bit, but didn't fall asleep - instead, I kept a watchful eye out for DWOM or any other potentially threatening beings. Oh, and I smile-flirted with the Bike Boys. They were showing off for us. It was funny.

When the station doors opened at 4:50, we relocated to another nearby wall for a few more minutes. When we sat down, Rumiko promptly fell back into a deep sleep. I was even more awake than before, so I watched the light grow and the (normal) people start arriving for the day. Presently, another caucasian man walked by. I am generally friendly to caucasian people in Japan, because I know how out of place I felt while I was here. Well, this guy was Russian. He didn't really speak English. But he said hello and kind of asked where I was from. Unfortunately, he was on Rumi's side and speaking to me. When she woke up to the conversation, he was kind of leaning over her towards me ... I think she had a momentary heart attack as she scrambled to sit up. He was nice, but a little strange....he kept saying, "You speak? You speak?" To which Rumiko replied, "Yes, I speak. See, I am speaking right now. I am always speaking." Then she said goodbye to him, but he didn't catch the hint. He mimiced a motorbike, told us where he was from (sort of) and that he didn't speak English (we noticed) and then finally caught the hint. We decided that we had had enough of Nagoya, and went inside the station.

Ready to hit up a new and fun day, we fixed our makeup in the bathroom and caught our train. The only sketchy part of our schedule was that we had two minutes to make one of our transfers. Turned out, it didn't matter.

Partway between Nagoya and Toyohashi, the train was delayed. We didn't quite understand the loudspeaker message, so we asked a couple sitting beside us. They told us that the train would go to Toyohashi, but then would turn around and head back to Nagoya. Why? Rain. "?????" We didn't quite understand how the rain was stopping the train, but figured there must be flooding ... it was raining pretty hard.

We discovered this when we got to Hammamatsu. Trains weren't moving, so we went exploring. We played in the rain for a second, but only a second - I couldn't believe how much it was raining!

We saw the famous Hammamatsu tower, and took a picture in the rain. We missed one train (didn't see it on the board on time), before finally catching another train. After a few more stops and a very quick four-minute-flat-exploration of Shizuoka station (on the way), we finally, finally made it to Atami! We were thrilled, to say the least.

We snapped some photos, jumped into our bathing suits, and took off for the beach to meet Alex and Keith...

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