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First Night in Tokyo


Part 1: Missing Luggage and a Tokyo Rooftop Respite

We got to Japan and arrived at a line that had many a constant traveler in the crowd claiming, “It’s never like this,” as the line snaked its way back and forth 10 lines of queues and out into another room. 1.5 hours of waiting. A kid not far ahead of us, part of an exchange group of middle schoolers from Canada, spent the whole time leaning over a vomit bag, green to the gills. I could not understand that Narita did not make an exception for this, the child was so clearly ill.

Goes without saying that much of Narita airport continued with this heavy feeling as when we finally made it through customs, the wait had been so long our checked bag no longer had a designated corral to be retrieved from. Eager to get out of there, I walked and waited in the customs line, hoping Sandy would arrive shortly with the bag and we would stroll on out of there.

Five times over I made my through the queue at customs and then finally gave up to search for Sandy, who had been making a claim of lost luggage.

This was a hitch as we had thought to get some nap time on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Sapporo. Where to go? How would we sleep? We took a bus to Tokyo to start looking for a place to sleep. 20 minutes in United called to say they found our bag, but by then it was too late to return and claim our lost bag that night.

After exchanging our 21-Day Japanese Rail vouchers for the actual tickets, I was too exhausted to venture out into the night, so we located a 24 hour manga cafe a mile away that charges $15/head for 7 hours, and $1/hour after. Having just blown $56 on the airport bus to Tokyo station, I was all about cutting any costs and started looking hard and steely at each quiet side street we passed for a possible crook for us to sleep unawares tonight.

As we walked I noticed many buildings had entrances and elevators that people, very unlike NYC, seamlessly entered without an RFID electronic key or doorman to check them in. We passed a number of these before I suggested to Sandy that we try walking in one and find a space to camp, knowing that at 7p most of the offices looked closed.

We slipped into a nondescript building, took an elevator as high as we could to the 8th floor and low and behold all the employees were gone. Even better there was an unlocked bathroom, a small galley kitchen with a sink and one burner, and an outdoor stairway that led to a roof with a small space tucked in behind the hearing and cooling elements of the building that we could also unawares to anyone else.

View from our rooftop “hotel”

The floor was hard concrete, and our tent was in the lost bag. However, we spread out the blanket I had pinched from our flight, stuffed some clothing under our heads, and took gratitude in the lack of rain and warm night air that allowed us to sleep on the roof without trouble.

Part 2: Busted

Getting busted. And a wealth of good will.
Woke up at 1a, feeling good after 5 hours of sleep in the hard ground. Sandy and I decided to take a stroll and see if we could find a bite anywhere – restaurant or garbage picking, but much was closed and we saw Japanese people don’t seem to waste as much food. We watched the glowing figures of construction men at work – construction, road repair, garbage pickup. Japan makes such a sound choice requisitioning these men to perform such labor at a time that will leave most others undisturbed. Things are magically fixed overnight and these men need not deal with the heat or the traffic of the day time.

At 3a, when we returned, not ten minutes had passed when we heard the elevator lifting. Thinking the building was empty we both turned and faced each other with looks of anticipation and turned our attention back to the door as it slid open and a tired gentleman wandered out and looked taken aback with surprise. We started out apologizing and pointed at the rain outside, trying to explain – sadly in English – that we were in here temporarily to escape the rain. He shook his head and mumbled, “No, no, no,” looking exasperated.

We did not want to cause him any trouble, so we packed up and headed downstairs. I felt relief that he did not try to hold us and call the cops. Harmless though we are, I would not blame him for being frightened. One can never guess what squatters are up to, and even those that look harmless may damage, steal, or leave a mess behind.

The downpour outside was no real cause for alarm as across the street we found a deep and dark covered entrance of a parking garage. It was much cooler to be outside and the sound of the rain was soothing. Neither of us was none too tired, so I settled in to write while Sandy hopped from one awning to the next in the rain, looking for an outlet to charge our phones. Finding none he came back.

Minutes later, we stared in astonishment when we saw the man that had just shooed us out of the building, exit the building and wave, beckoning us to return inside. We felt bad for disturbing him earlier and and shook our hands in a gesture that meant “Thanks, but no need.” He insisted, not leaving the doorway till we got up and headed his way.

It didn’t feel creepy; there was only kindness. He seemed to have changed his mind about the young adults he had found crashing in his building. Maybe he thought we were homeless. He directed us back to our spot on the 8th floor and we thanked him profusely as we settled in and plugged our electronics to charge. He ascended to the floor above, and it was then that we knew he must be the superintendent of the building.

10 minutes later he descended and asked us to join him in his small room upstairs. He did not speak much English, but enough to ask if we were married. Assuringly, I could truthfully answer yes, as we followed him up the steps into his office.

“A very small room,” he cautioned, trying not to allow our expectations to be diminished. It was a fairly tidy room and here we said hello and goodbye to another man who been visiting – a coworker? a friend? I do not know. He was equally taken aback, but introduced himself and shook our hands.

“Are you hungry? Have you eaten dinner?” he asked, rubbing his belly to give us further indication as to what he meant. Overwhelmed by his generosity, and not wanting to further trouble him, I replied, “No. We are great.”

In a kind man’s office, drying from the rain

He then left us in his room and stepped outside, returning 10 minutes later with two pints of apple and orange juice, next asking which we preferred. If it did not break my heart, this man with visibly meagre means, who we had frightened with our surprising presence that dreary night, had gone out, purchased these drinks, and then poured us each a glass.

We warmed up to each other chatting. We answered his questions – we had just arrived and had a suitcase lost and then found, but irretrievable till the next morning. We were not on our honeymoon, but we’re recently married. From NYC. 1st time to Japan for Sandy and 5th time for me, although it had been 14 years since I had been to Japan. He lived nearby, but when it was late, he said he slept in his office, motioning to the rolling chair that he sleeps in.

Seeing that he may need to sleep, we offered to return to the 8th floor. He responded by handing us a blanket and a sleeping bag to lay out on the floor, which we did, taking off our shoes, and laying down for a rest. He dimmed the lights, went to his chair, and put on some light piano music for us all to fall asleep to.

Such a nice way to end the night.