Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sapporo - Lost in Translation (Not For The Last Time, I'm Sure)

Since I had thought I would be waking up on the streets of Aomori, it was pretty nice to wake up in my own bed to a warm Japanese breakfast and a hot shower. Breakfast confirmed my suspicions about the hotel's only clientèle - picture me in my gym shorts, a white undershirt, and barefoot, surrounded by ten Japanese business men in full suit and tie, wolfing down breakfast before work. Plus I dropped my chopsticks. Twice.

Shortly after, I checked out, my bag slightly heavier with the robe and tea I stole. I walked the short distance to the train station, got my seat reservations (it's time to take advantage of the free reservations I get with my rail pass, to ensure yesterday doesn't happen again), and boarded the first of two trains to Sapporo, on an island just across a short channel from Japan's main island.

When I boarded the train, however, I was met with mass chaos. The entire car was filled with old Japanese couples. I counted twenty-nine couples, with the thirtieth pair of seats left to me (why don't they ever give anyone the seat next to me? Somehow, I blame Bush.) The couples, all twenty-nine of them, were up in the aisles, attempting to spin their seats around, since the train would be going in the other direction. They were all laughing and having a great time - the woman in front of me was spinning her husband's chair in circles while he was still in it, yelling at her. Things settled down, the train got moving, and I sat, stifling laughs for a good ten minutes.

Since I wasn't riding a bullet train, it took seven hours to go from Aomori to Sapporo. So I finished my book, and had nothing more to do on the train. Finally, we arrived in Sapporo, which was much wilder than I'd imagined. To get to the hostel, I only had to get on the subway and ride for three stops. Easier said than done in Japan. To get to the subway, you have to wind through literally miles of the most confusing indoor mall ever. More on this later.

I followed the signs, found the subway and my hostel, and checked in. Turns out I'm the only non-Japanese person in the place. The room is really nice, but a huge step down, privacy-wise, from last night. I have to say, my least favorite thing about traveling so far is the hostels. I really don't like sharing a room with anyone unless I know them really well. The only person I've ever shared a room with is Bodnar for my freshman year, and we knew each other well enough so there were no real surprises with his sleeping habits (but don't remind him about my snoring). However, now I have shared rooms with seven people, and it's only night four. Yeah, I'm meeting people, but so far we've barely spoken a common language - one German, one Swiss, and five Japanese people. So far, I'm pretty lukewarm about this whole hostel experience. And sharing a dorm with three other people all semester in Egypt? Kill me.

Okay, enough whining. I hopped back on the subway to find an English bookstore and a place to eat before I went to sleep nice and early. But Lonely Planet isn't that good with maps. They just kind of throw a dot on a barely accurate map, marking the general area of a building. That crap may fly with Europe and North America and their gridded streets, but it doesn't work here. All I know is that the bookstore was somewhere between the TV Tower - a giant, neon Eiffel Tower ripoff, which wasn't too hard to find - and the Virgin Megastore, which should have been easy to find, but I never did. I wandered for nearly an hour, but I couldn't even find the damn megastore. The problem with Japan is that it's like the movie The Fifth Element - there's still a huge amount of activity going on 100 stories up. In fact,the store you're looking for could be on the 50th floor of some generic, unmarked building. So I never found the bookstore, but I'll skip all my sightseeing tomorrow to avoid accepting defeat. I will find the bookstore.

After my little tour of a four-square-block area of Sapporo, I headed back to the insanity of Sapporo Station to get some food. And if this is relatively small Sapporo, I can't imagine what Tokyo is going to be like. The place was one part meat market, one part Willy Wonka's factory, and 100% acid trip. Everyone's yelling at you from the literally hundreds of tiny food shops to buy their food, there's loud music, everything down to the walls are speaking to you, and you're hit by hundreds of smells all at once. It was exhilarating. I finally picked the largest restaurant I saw, and I was seated for some reason not at the counter for solo eaters or even a table for two, but a twenty-foot empty table in the middle of the restaurant. I sat in the king's seat at the end, to the amusement of two schoolgirls, and ordered what the waitress recommended, which was really good, whatever it was. I didn't eat the brownie-sized piece of ice-cold tofu, though, which elicited actual glares from most of the wait staff as they walked by and saw the uneaten sponge still on my plate. So I paid and left to get some sleep before heading out again tomorrow into this exhausting Japanese city. How do they not die of ulcers all the time?

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