Random Thoughts in Tokyo

Daikomyosai was amazing this year, as always. Hatsumi-soke was super genki, there were techniques demonstrated in both yoroi and beautiful formal Japanese court wear, and the training was intense, enriching, and enlightening. Today is my first day off since I arrived two weeks ago, and the first opportunity I’ve had to regroup and reflect. Rather than attempt to recount the training experience in detail (there was so much to take in and I don’t yet have the experience to distill it with clarity), I thought I’d share a few thoughts on other things. Some are just random musings, but hopefully there are a few you’ll find useful.

THE PACKING AWARDS

Eric Kidhart’s piece on traveling light came to mind. I started laughing and couldn’t stop…even after having read his excellent and well thought-out advice, here I sit yet again with more clothes and crap than I need. But there was a method to some of my madness (though not all of it, I admit), so I present to you my personal Packing Awards and humbly petition Eric for patience as I struggle valiantly toward streamlining.

The Hip Hop Lyric as Packing Philosophy Winner

I’d rather have it and not need it/ than need it and then not have it
“Loosifa,” The Jugganots

Outside of the fact that the Jugganots are one of the best unsung groups in hip hop, I like this line because it justifies at least part of my clumsy packing methods quite nicely. Japan has some of the most fabulous fashions on the planet, but if you’re a woman who wears anything above a size 6 in clothes or size 7 in shoes, you’ll have a tough time finding something that fits if you need a quick wardrobe addition. Yes, we definitely do spend the vast majority of our time either in a gi in training or in jeans and sweats on the way to training, but every now and then events that call for more do arise. I don’t go as far as packing formal stuff, but a reasonably dressy piece or two prevents “nothing to wear” angst. Case in point: a friend who visited New York recently called last week to let me know she was hosting a jazz benefit for New Orleans hurricane relief here. I am so not a size 6, so if I hadn’t packed anything appropriate (I’d added three simple black interchangeable pieces to my suitcase), I would’ve had to show up wearing tabi and a “Cops” t-shirt.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t justify the rest of the unnecessary stuff I brought in any way.

The Saving Grace Winner
Baggage Delivery Services

For folks like me who fail to follow perfectly good advice to pack light, there’s an alternative to schlepping everything up and down the train station stairs: baggage delivery services. I’ve been using them for a few years now, which is maybe why I’ve been a little cavalier on the sensible packing thing. Several are available right at Narita Airport (after coming out of customs, turn left and go all the way to the end), and for about $15 per bag, they’ll deliver your gear anywhere in Tokyo/Chiba. You just give them your hotel info, pay ‘em, and walk away light as a feather. If you arrive at Narita in the morning, your bags will usually arrive the same day (depending on how far away your accommodations are). If you arrive in the afternoon or evening, your bags will get to you the next morning. I usually pack my gi and a change of clothes in my carryon so the next day thing isn’t a problem. They will also pick up your bags and take them back to the airport – just call them to arrange a pick up for the day before you leave, and you can retrieve your bags at their counter when you get to Narita.
Or, you can pack light and save the $15 to spend on new tabi (or a round of beers).

The Most Bang For The Buck Winner
White Zip-Up Hoodie Sweatshirt from Target, $10.99

The temperature during this time of the year in Japan is unpredictable – 60 degrees one day, in the low 40’s the next. This hoodie is working great for me as a layering piece – easy to throw on under a jacket when it’s chilly or to wear alone when it’s warmer, and a nice change from the unrelieved black I (and a lot of us shinobi types) tend to default to. Wouldn’t be so great if it had been raining a lot, though, now that I think back on the “death cloth” rep of wet cotton. Huh. Guess I lucked out on this one.

The Eric-Should-Hit-Me-With-A-Stick Winner
Too Many Pairs of Heels (and Purses)

What the heck was I thinking? I really should know better by now and I live in sneakers here (as does everyone), so I’m pleading temporary insanity.

* * *

WINNER: The Kashiwa Plaza Hotel & Annex

This year’s Daikomyosai was really crowded, which meant that accommodations were at a premium. I usually stay in Noda at the Parks Hotel, but that’s been closed for renovations and practically everything else in Noda was sold out. So I reserved a room at the Kashiwa Plaza Hotel Annex (they have two properties very close to each other) and was very pleasantly surprised. A few of my favorite things:

Reasonable Prices: A single room is 5000 yen per night, a spacious double is 7000 yen, and a twin room is 9000 yen for 2 people.

Free Internet Access: Bring your laptop and they’ll provide a high speed modem and cables. Priceless for staying in contact with loved ones at home (Skype!) and dealing with work stuff if you need to.

Close To Transport: Kashiwa-eki is about a 2 minute walk away (less if you have long legs), and it’s equidistant from the Hombu in Noda and the Budokan in Ayase. I ended up spending a lot less time and money on transportation.

No Running For The Last Train: There are lots of fun places to hang out in Kashiwa post-training, and staying here means I never have to run for the last train to Noda at 12:30AM.

Washing Machines & Dryers: Yet another reason I could’ve packed a lot lighter. 200 yen to wash, 100 yen per 30 minutes to dry, and you’ve got a clean, fresh gi (or clothing items of your choice)! Every hotel should have them rather than offering to wash your things for you at those extortionate prices.

Starbucks: Two, count ‘em, TWO, right at the station. Ah, caffeinated bliss every morning.

Really Nice Staff: The staff at the Parks Hotel was wonderful and I miss them, but the folks here are super nice and extra helpful too. And they have maps that show you how to find practically anything you’d ever want in the area. Just whip out your phrase book and you’re off to the races.

Evening Street Merriment: Kashiwa isn’t called “the Shibuya of Chiba” for nothing. There are a lot of bars, restaurants, and entertainment spots in the area, so if you’re not up for making merriment yourself and your room is on the street side, pull a chair up to the window and watch the revelers go by.

RUNNER UP: Keitai Rental Service

Keitai (cell phone) rental service may seem unnecessary, but it can come in extremely handy, especially when you’re trying to coordinate groups for training or other outings. As most of your probably know, our US cell phones work almost anywhere in the world…except for Japanand South Korea. Renting a handset from your USJapan is a lot cheaper than you might think. JAL/ABC, who also runs a baggage delivery service, will rent you a cell phone that you can pick up at Narita for less than $2.50 per day (credit card required). Incoming calls are free and outgoing calls run about 80 yen per minute. Renting one for a 10 day trip (as long as you don’t plan to chat on it for hours) can be as cheap as $45 including minutes, and sharing the cost among a group cuts the price even more.
OK, friends and neighbors, that’s all the ramblings for today. Time to jump into the extra-deep bathtub and soak away some of these aches so I can be ready for training tomorrow!

(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 12/09/05. Author retains all copyrights.)

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