Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The end of the line.

I've been living in Tokyo for over 6 months now and it's been 3 months since I got back from America. I haven't left the city since I got back, so it was high time that I did something about that. Also, there is something that I've wanted to do since I moved to Japan... Hop on a train and get off at the end of the line, just to see what's out there. No planning, no maps, just hop on a train and get off when I'm forced to.

I suckered a friend into joining me, and had a very interesting time. Even before I stepped off the train, it was quite clear I wasn't in Tokyo anymore.

This fellow right here is a Tengu. I don't know much about the Tengu, but they're supposed to live in the woods around here. This one sure was massive.

Where the hell is 'here' anyways?

We ended up in Takao. I couldn't find out a whole lot about the town of Takao, but apparently there's a Mount Takao, which is a famous hiking spot for Tokyo citizens. Mount Takao isn't really accessible by Takao station. You have to change trains and go one more stop on a different line. That's fine, I wanted to explore, not hike on a popular, well worn trail.

So, we left Takao station and enjoyed the neighborhood.

And what a neighborhood it was. I know it's kind of silly to say this, but I really felt like I was in Japan. I understand what my friends were talking about when they visited America and they went to all the major cities and when they got to the small towns, they said "I feel like this is real America".

Trees lining the street? Where am I?

So, me and my friend decided to cross the river and walk up a mountain. Just like our arrival in Takao, there was no reason for it. Just to see things.

It seemed like something out of a movie. A quiet mountain hill in a sleepy town.

It was a pretty steep climb up the mountain, but it wasn't so bad.

It was also a bit unusual to see so many cars and so few pedestrians. I'm used to living in a pedestrian paradise, but there were less than a half-dozen people on food and tons of cars.

These cars ranged between small and tiny and are nowhere near the cars I see around town that are significantly more expensive and generally larger. I guess these cars are used daily as opposed to Tokyo cars, which are there more for fun and to show off.

But, this was just some small, sleepy town.

It was kind of hard to describe. Familiar and foreign at the same time.

Anyways, there was a field with snow in it!

And a house with a lightning bolt on the side!

And someone growing vegetables!

In a sense, it was everything Tokyo wasn't. I got to see a few people argue about how to plant vegetables, a Denny's-like diner, traffic, two dry cleaners, and other rather normal things. And PARKING LOTS! Like, just empty lots with white lines. No numbers, no gates, no machines lifting cars up, just a few normal parking lots.

Well, we left and got a nice view of the city.

Looks like you can go bowling in Takao.

Something caught my eye on the horizion:

What the hell is that thing?

I HAD to find out! That really didn't look like it belonged here. And it's HUGE! Significantly larger than everything else in this town, but what is it?

Well, we were near the train station and decided to stroll down 'main street' Takao. It was pretty interesting.

At this crazy shop, I got a 'cola float' beverage. It tasted just like what you'd expect. It was kind of weird, though as there was no ice cream. This store was also weird because there were like old, dying plants in the corner, children's toys on the floor and American sized isles. I'm so used to barely fitting, it was a nice relief. Oh yeah, and the sign was weird too.

There was also an old gum vending machine.

I don't recall ever seeing a gum specific vending machine. I've seen tons with gum on the bottom, but not a whole dedicated machine.

Also, in somebody's house, I saw some lovely flowers.

And down the street was a plum tree blossoming.

It was magnificent.

But, I was no closer to figuring out what that thing was.

There was this huge empty space before it and a pretty river. It was quite striking.

But what is it? It's huge, I know that.

So, on the left was a road and a small building and on the right was a relaxing bull.

So, should I take the logical, straight path or go around and across a small bridge?

Why don't I ask the stone bear cub?

He's telling me to look up the hill? What's up th...

Holy crap!

What is that? I couldn't resist checking it out, no matter how many stairs there were.

After a LOT of stairs, I see this guy:

Who is he?

Yeah, I can't read that. There was also a plaque with lots of words on the back of the statue. Even if I knew Japanese fluently and understood all the kanji, I still probably wouldn't be able to read it as it was quite faded and dirty.

He looks less scary from behind. The sun behind him makes it more dramatic.

Speaking of dramatic, the view atop this hill was worth mentioning.

See that road on the far left of the picture below?

That's where we were earlier.

Also up on this hill was a small hut:

And a statue of a boy.

This is exactly the type of unplanned sightseeing I love.

I come to escape the city and see all these incredible things.

It was just so unexpected.
(again, you can see the road we were on earlier, on the center left of the picture below)

But, I still didn't figure out what this massive structure was.

And I guess I wasn't going to.

I did some research online, and apparently it's a monument that honors those who died in industrial accidents.

Still didn't answer what was inside that massive building, but now that I knew that, it's not really my business what's inside, so I'll leave it be.

One thing I wouldn't leave be is my stomach. After walking around all day we were kind of hungry.

We passed by this Oknomyaki joint on the way to that massive monument. For those who aren't familiar with okonomiyaki, it's been described as 'Japanese pizza', but really it's nothing like that. It's simply dough, cabbage, and other things. Normally ginger, some type of meat, some sauce on top and mayo.

This place was pretty good. It was strange though. First off, it was clearly somebody's house.

Those toys? Those belonged to the 8 year old boy who was running around. It was also a no-shoes restaurant, which isn't so unusual here. It was just unusual to see soccer cleats and roller blades in the shoe rack.

After a round of ginger and then pork okonomiyaki, we saw something that caught our attention... Banana okonomiyaki.

We both thought they would have a different concoction of bonus ingredients with the banana batch, but nope. Green onions, ginger, little baby shrimp and all.

It looks and sounds nighmarish, but smelled and tasted really good. It wasn't what I would have concocted as a dessert under normal circumstances, but I actually really liked it. It wasn't too sweet but not too savory. I'd most likely order it again, but I could have done without the baby shrimp.

So, any logical person would have just headed home and called it a day. But not me.

On the Chuo line, that I take every day, there is a station that kind of branches out into 4 different lines. The place is Tachikawa and I thought anywhere with such a big train stop had to be interesting.

I was right. Tachikawa was an interesting blend of high class, vintage American and Japanese goods, sleaze, and regular working folks. There are a few huge shopping malls which we didn't go into, a quite healthy red light district, some cool vintage shops, and apparently one of the largest movie theaters in the Tokyo area.

And a lot of taxis.

It was a really funny place. I got to see this:

Really? Too bad I ate all that okonomiyaki.

I got to see a hooker enjoy a pearl drink, a crazy collectible shop, a few good looking places to eat.

It was very interesting and looked very new. It's really not that far from my house, and inside the train station itself was an amazing row of bakeries. I got a slice of apple pie that was really good and I keep dreaming about this cheese cake I tasted. I want to go back!

So, that was my adventures with random train stops. The number one lesson I learned is to explore. I had such a great time, and I'm anxious to get off at the end of a line again.

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