Before I can regale all and sundry with the wonders of my whirlwind tour of Toronto and Winnipeg, I have to fill you in on a few trips to places with the word “Fuji” in their names.
I’d just dragged myself seven hours back from Fuji Rock on Sunday, and within a few days I’d be heading up to Tokyo to meet Big Sis to prep for a climb up Mt. Fuji. But Bishop was leaving Japan to heed the siren call of, well, New Jersey, and he was heading to Thailand with Socks before going home for good. So I spent two days running all sorts of little errands, calling my travel agent, and trying to rejuvenate my single perishing plant before I took off early Wednesday morning, trekking out of The Village for the fourth time in two weeks to see Bishop for the last time.
We headed out to some tiny town on the east coast of Izu that featured a large rope bridge, a lighthouse, a rather scenic coastline with fifty-foot cliffs composed of gnarled and twisted volcanic rock, and very little else.
Since Bishop wanted one last shot at Akihabara, Tokyo’s tech district, he accompanied me to the big city on Thursday morning. We said our goodbyes and I set off across town to deal with my tertiary objective in Tokyo: I’d heard from my travel agent while travelling on Wednesday, and I finally had tickets to Toronto.
I’d been holding out for a cheap ten-day trip to both Winnipeg and Toronto with Air Canada for about 100,000 yen, or $1250, but they’d been sold out for months and as time got tight I agreed to settle for whatever my agent could get me. One hefty cash withdrawal later, I had 140,000-yen tickets to Toronto only, featuring a four-hour stopover in Newark. I got an extra four days at home, but I had to figure out Winnipeg on my own and at additional expense. I have this image of me loading buckets money into a catapult with a shovel. Ploing: problem solved.
With a bit of strategic cellular aid (how did I ever arrange to meet people before I had one of those things?), Big Sis and I found each other in Tokyo station and made our way to the hotel she’d reserved in Shinjuku. I discovered that I’m getting fairly good at navigating that particular area of Tokyo. I’m even starting to like bits of it.
Big Sis and I had two key objectives from our base of operations in Shinjuku: the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park, and Mt. Fuji itself.
Big Sis and I generally worked at the same impatient speed and with a similar modus operandi, and when we couldn’t find the buses at the seemingly mythical west exit of Shinjuku station, for once I didn’t feel like the only person who was stupidly lost. Big Sis attributed our similarities to the fact that we’re both Sagittarius. The fact that we’ve known each other since high school probably didn’t hurt, either.
The 1.5-hour bus trip to Fuji-Q Highland took us into the central reaches of Japan for what was my first time. The small towns in the mountainous interior were completely different from what I’d seen on the coasts: houses built right on the edges of sheer cliffs, held up by thin vertical concrete mouldings over rivers that actually looked like they’d been left relatively untouched and unaltered by man. Shizuoka eschewed diagonal construction, but here there were little houses sprawled all across the hillsides.
Fuji-Q is built on a fairly small plot of land surrounded by hotels and rural houses, but they pack a lot of stuff in there. We were satisfied to find three or four roller coasters, a water park, an area named “Thomas Land” after the children’s steam engine, go-karts, giant swings, and assorted other amusement-park fare.
Our first stop was the Fujiyama, a great-looking roller coaster with an amazing vertical drop of 70 metres. 70 metres is higher than the hotel at the park. 70 metres is higher than the surrounding hills. 70 metres is, according to the sign just as you come up to the top, the world record for a roller coaster. And then the drop is one of the kind that lifts you up out of your seat as you go down. Good coaster. No shoulder straps. But I put a crick in my neck when I started to seriously wonder if they’d designed the overhanging beams with gaijin stature in mind.
Next up was the Doh-Don-Pah, an air-launched coaster where a single car rides on the outside of a crazy inverted vertical U. “Doh-don-pah” refers to the sound your heart makes while riding it; you apparently experience several Gs as you go around at something like 170 km/h.
As we waited, a speaker system broadcast warnings in at least three languages that anyone with any ailment other than excessive dandruff shouldn’t get on this thing: people whose legs couldn’t support their body weight, people with heart problems, people over fifty-five, people suffering from the effects from alcohol, people suffering from sleep deprivation, and people feeling ill in any way whatsoever. My dad wouldn’t be allowed on this ride until his reincarnation. Again, no shoulder straps.
But as we approached the sign telling us we had only a half hour left to wait, it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then they shut down every ride in the park. We managed to catch an indoor simulator ride before everything closed down completely and we joined the huddled masses in the “Food Stadium,” where Big Sis waited more than an hour in line for a hamburger and got my order by cell phone while I held onto our table and watched the fantastic lightning show. The power to the building went down at one point, so the staff had to do all sales by hand calculator.
The rain showed no sign of letting up, so after another hour we decided to make a break for it, skirting as many buildings as possible until we made it to the entrance gates.
Big Sis’s Japanese kicks mine around the block—she can understand the announcements on the bus system—but neither of us has really ever learned how to complain in Japanese. So although she started the conversation with the guy at the ticket gate, when we tried to ask for a refund, I somehow ended up doing most of the talking. I foolishly admitted that we’d been on Fujiyama, and as far I could tell, the guy said there was nothing to be done if we’d been on the ride. Then he asked us to step to the side and wait for a minute, and I thought maybe I’d misunderstood something.
“He said there was nothing he could do, right?”
“That’s what I thought,” Big Sis replied.
We looked at each other, shrugged, and the guy came back with half our ticket money. Not bad.
That night we met up with a friend of Big Sis’s who’d recently moved to Tokyo, and along with some of her new co-workers we went to dinner and a hip-hop club. The club was actually located on the creepy hill I’d found on my first trip to Shibuya—the one with love hotels and strip joints in most directions. Big Sis and I went in first while the others munched on convenience store snacks, and I got carded for the first time since I arrived in Japan. I didn’t even know what card to show them.
The two other guys in our group tried to get in while the girls went for a walk, but they were told they couldn’t enter because one of them was wearing sandals. So, via means of which I’m not entirely clear, 1000 yen later they returned with a pair of proper shoes and they were still denied entry. Apparently, the bouncers didn’t like single male gaijin since they tended to start fights over the girls in the club. So one of the guys pulled out his basic Japanese and managed to convince them that their dates had gone on a walk and would be back shortly.
In Akita, Big Sis’s friends have a special inflated price for all-you-can-drink nights—because they once drank dry the bar. Rules that work for the average Japanese person sometimes just don’t apply to us, and the scales tip both ways.