Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
English humorist & science fiction novelist (1952 – 2001)
So here’s a small way in which the scale of Tokyo hit me.
We are renting an Airbnb apartment which is all arranged, paid for and locked in.
All we need to do is check in.
First challenge: The address.
It’s in Japanese – obvs – but Google cannot get a grip on it and there’s no such thing as a phone book/directory. And if there was I couldn’t read it. Street names building names/numbers are not as straight forward as other countries. It’s no 33 Acacia Avenue. Never mind, think alternatives.
Second challenge: Arranging to meet.
So we’ll meet at the station. Excellent idea. Which one? Asakusa. Exit A4. Simples? Er, no. You see there are FOUR Asakusa stations. Each serving a different metro/rail line. Asakusa is not quiet either. It holds the busiest shrine in Tokyo and – for reasons I can’t explain – hints of Covent Garden. Only with more people.
Third Challenge: Language.
Our host is super responsive, but the phraseology is cryptic. (It turned out we were talking – at her end – via Google translate. This made things okay. Eh? It makes clear that she wasn’t being difficult, she simply can’t speak English and was copy-pasting machine derived text which was getting frustrating… Until you twig. Some way to go there on that one Google.) Eventually I send a link to a street view piccy of a coffee shop outside the A4 exit of the station I think she means. “Yes.” Comes the reply. Phew.
Fourth Challenge: Recognition
We breezed through the train/subway gig – masters of Japanese transport after 10 days! – and emerge at the appointed exit a formal 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Oh my, there are a lot of people. I start eyeing every local lady that pauses, ready to cheerfully introduce myself. It’s a wonder I don’t get arrested more often. After a few false starts, a slight lady lingers and toys with her iPhone.
Aside We are potentially into the bounds of "they all look the same" here. The minefield of casual racism. Fear not, this is not where this is going.
Slight lady is wearing a mask. No silly, not a Halloween one. The kind of surgical facemask ubiquitous in Japan (and other oriental countries). This means that my chances of matching a face to an Airbnb mugshot are heading towards zero. I offer a smile and a convivial “konnichiwa”. It’s her. (Although in amusing retrospect, she should’ve been more on point. We were the only white family of four – who weren’t wearing masks BTW – hanging out at the station exit. I think of the two parties, we would be the ones picked out in an identity parade.)
Bless, she is splendid. Momentarily we are off in a little people train threading our way through unfamiliar streets knee deep in tourists, rick-shaw-pullers, locals and who knows what else. A few hundred meters later we are “home” (for the next 4 nights). Detailed apartment usage instructions ensue. In Japanese. And then, bows, smiles (one assumes, behind the mask) and we’re alone at “our” place.
My head spins with the surreal. J&M head straight for the wifi.