|1.||Up the Human Elevator in Tokyo||See below|
|2.||Camping on the Serengeti||Read it Now|
|3.||No Seatbelts, Brakes or Brains - but what a view!||Read it Now|
|Up the Human Elevator in Tokyo|
|From "Travels in a Blue Chair" - a series of short stories |
The thing I hate about being in a wheelchair and taking long flights is the fact that I never get to pee. Most of the time the staff are more than willing to assist me into the narrow washroom if need be, but for some reason I prefer to save them all the bother. The unfortunate consequence is that I am just about bursting by the time I am ready to get off the plane, and this after attempting to drink as little as possible.
As I was anticipating my date with the white throne, I began to watch the film they show at the end of the flight to demonstrate all the ways of getting around in the airport and how to get into town. I was shocked to hear that Narita airport is about one hour away by taxi, and the cost would be 30,000 yen. I wasn’t too familiar with the currency yet, but even I could figure out that it was over $300 Canadian. I had to figure something else out, and do it fast.
After clearing customs, I attended the washroom, which luckily has an oversized stall for the disabled. As I left the stall I was surprised to see an elderly woman with what seemed like a hand made broom, sweeping out the men’s room. She worked diligently and took no notice of me, but what really surprised me were the men at the urinals, going about their business, and taking no notice of her. My notions of the staid Japanese were immediately challenged and I realized that Asia was going to be a totally unique experience for me.
I knew from the onboard video that there was a subway station at the lower level of Narita. I enjoyed the chance to take in a bit of Japanese life, even if it was only from the airport. The signage was in a different script, although most were in English as well, and the faces were different, but otherwise it simply resembled an Asian neighbourhood in any large town. I finally broke down and asked for directions to the subway and luckily for me, when I found it, there was a ramp to get to the entrance. People were entering by putting their stubs in the machine adjacent to the turnstile and then going through and picking it back up at the other end. I had no idea of how to read the subway map, which was written in Japanese Kanji script, but I know that I had to get to the Asakusa train station, which is where my hotel was located.
I usually stay at cheap and clean youth hostels, which fit my budget, allow me to meet other travelers and hopefully start conversations with other backpackers. This is important to me since I travel alone in my blue chair and it can get pretty lonely on the road in exotic, non-English speaking locales. Unhappily for me, I was arriving early in November, on a national holiday, so the youth hostel was closed. This is unusual for hostels as most of them are generally open 365 days a year. I was lucky to have my hotel arranged for me by, Aileen, a fellow Canadian of Japanese descent working as a computer consultant for the last year or so, and a friend of a friend of mine back in Toronto. I had received an e-mail from Aileen, giving me the address of the hotel, but the problem was that the directions weren’t in Japanese.
My immediate problem was still trying to arrange the purchase of a ticket to the Asakusa station. Since there were no persons available to manually buy a ticket from, I asked a fellow commuter if she would assist me. The $10 fare was much better that spending the hundreds of dollars it would have cost, had I taken a taxi. After going up the long ramp to the train platform, I was pleased that the train was a modern one, well lit and designed to accommodate wheelchairs. The young girl who had assisted me with my ticket was very interested in the fact that I was traveling alone. It turned out that she worked at the airport in one of the cafés and was headed back into the city on her way home from work. As I looked around at the people riding with me, I noticed that many of them were already fast asleep, trying to get a catnap in before going home for dinner. It seemed like a good idea to me. The train ride took about 40 minutes or more and frankly, I was exhausted after 16 hours on a plane. I needed a comfortable bed and a place to stretch out.
Upon arriving at Asakusa, I was confronted with another problem, there were no ramps or elevators to get me up to the street level. I asked a local to find me someone who worked for the trains who might be able to assist me up the stairs. It wasn’t long before a middle-aged man, dressed in a white uniform and wearing glasses took up the challenge. He was equipped with a handheld radio and quickly summoned his co-workers to help me up. Now the Japanese are not a big, powerful people, they are generally short in stature and I was surrounded by six eager but slightly overwhelmed guys who began to lug me up the narrow stairs to the outside world. I soon realized the task at hand was going to take a while. There must have been six flights of stairs, and at the top of each level my helpers were out of breath and gasping for air. Thankfully, we finally made it to the top and the exit. I thanked everyone for the help and looked for a cab to get me the rest of the way.
I was finally in the cool autumn air of Tokyo and it felt great. I knew that the worst of the search for my hotel was now behind me. I was early evening and this part of town didn’t seem to be especially memorable. The streetlights were on and there were a few shops, but other than that there wasn’t much to it. The man from the subway who had coordinated my elevation out of the underground summoned a cab from the long queue of vehicles that waited for commuters at the station’s exit. In short order a cab pulled up and prepared to continue the next leg of my search for the hotel. I took the opportunity to thank the subway official for all his help and he bowed to me graciously.
The taxis in Tokyo are small and immaculate. The drivers are dressed in a military styled uniform and are eager to assist. I tried to pronounce the name and address of the hotel that I had been booked into but I think my Japanese was pretty terrible as I was confronted with a perplexed stare. The driver took my piece of paper and got back into the front seat after throwing my chair into the trunk. We soon arrived a local police station, called a “koban”, which is more like a local police office rather than a station. These seemed to be located throughout the city every few blocks or so. I stayed in the back seat and observed as the driver and all the police officers discussed the situation and looked at the piece of paper I had given the driver. After some length of time, one of the officers, an older gentlemen, carried a wooden chair over to a bookcase, stood on it and reached up to a large book on the top shelf. Apparently, it was a map of the area, and it was so old it looked like it had been the original plan when the area was built. Anyway, they all scrutinized the book and it was not until all of the men in the koban agreed and bowed to each other that the driver emerged with a big smile on his face.
The two of us resumed our drive and I noticed that the nightlife had certainly picked up. There was far more pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, but we still were not in a downtown environment. It seemed to me that we were now in an area that marked a border between residential and commercial areas. It just took another five minutes to arrive at my hotel.
I entered the lobby with my bag on my lap and backpack with my Canadian flag on it, hanging from the back of my chair. The hotel was quite nice and the driver helped me into my chair as well as helping to carry my bags past the entrance. It was a small establishment, with only four floors, but the lobby was immaculate and it was obvious that the staff were happy to see me since they had been expecting someone in a chair from Canada to arrive. I was registered and told I had a nice room on the third floor. There were three small steps up to the elevator, but I knew they would be the smallest problems that I would have had to deal with on this day.
I had arrived in Asia!
© Walt Balenovich
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