Okay, for the last 3.5 hours the question has been: Will we get ON the train to Kanazawa? Now the question is can we get OFF? That will take some explaining but the short story is somehow, the rubber of my front right caster has fallen off, in fact fell off while we trying to return to the Ikebukuro Train station to catch the train to Skinjuku station (the busiest in the world) to pick up our luggage and catch the express to Tokyo Station to get our train to Kanazawa. We had left 95 minutes to do it and we had done it before and it took about 40 minutes.
Did I catch the train, well, almost not SEVERAL times, but the problem is I am now OUT of Tokyo and headed to Kanazawa with a chair that is well, grinding ground and what do I do? But let us return to this morning and the joys of shopping on Otome Road.
See, we went to bed early last night, after our exhausting round of Ghibli, B: lily-rose (In Ikebukuro) and then Ueto Park cherry blossom festival (One of the train conductors later told us he was in the park the night before drinking sake). Here is a picture of the Tokyo skyline from our central located Keio Hetol.
So, early to bed, early to rise…only I was a puddle of flesh, who reached for the painkillers. Here is a picture that Linda demanded I take of her in a Yukata. She is going Japanese!
We had planned to get out early to Ikebukuro and go to Animate, then K-books (since the earliest ANY stores including department stores is 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. for others. So we hoped to take the train there and be there at first opening. Only we made two TERRIBLE mistakes. The first is we asked the service desk for help. See, when you ask the service desk, you a) On rare occasions actually get the help you need, b) be repeatedly insulted in odd ways or 3) and MOST COMMON, be asked “Chot-to matte” (One moment please) and 35-45 minutes later the person will smiling present you with something completely unrelated to what you have asked for.
We had lost our map of Ikeburkuro area from the day before (got at the service desk) and we wanted the same one – a photocopy of the area around b: lily-rose from the Tokyo Map Book. Instead after a LONG wait we got, a worse copy of a map in Kanji from Google. I used the computer and printed off the two bookstores we wanted to go to and asked, even in Japanese for the person to circle the address on the map. They circled a place we had been the day before and we knew wasn’t it. Then they wrote the entire address in Kanji. Um…thanks but, still want to know WHERE to go. We asked him to CIRCLE the address in our smaller and inferior map. He disappears for “just a moment” and returns 10 minutes later to give up…a map of greater Tokyo. Which is like asking for a map to the New York Statue of Liberty and being given a foldout map of New England. At this point Linda and I asked, can you at least point the OTHER store on the map. He reads the address and says, “This is near the other store” and hands it back.
We cut our loses and left. I had actually tried the night before but the guy refused to help saying: “I do not know or like Anime (with a sneer), I am not a child!” Now, we COULD complain except this was said AT the service desk. Way to welcome people to Tokyo! Oh, we are staying next to the Imperial Suite at Keio, the “top” hotel in Tokyo.
So we were off to JR because we had another problem. We had made our trip plans and made reservations to leave Tokyo at 1:35 pm. JR had TOLD us that is what they were issuing us but they “decided” for us that we would leave at 12:35 on another train entirely. This is very common, you see, the order of things is: Older men, men, women, children, people in wheelchairs. So for example, if you say, “I want to take this train” and they find out that the wheelchair seat is full they say, “Yes, no problem” and then book you on another train altogether. Because you are someone to be ‘taken care of’ and explaining things and letting you choose…haha! Seriously, I almost did not make it on this train to Kanazawa because the ramp the station used was 25 inches wide and my chair is 25.5 inches wide. So the JR official was going to stand there and let the train go because…I could not go up the ramp (Sorry, the JR way was tried, nothing else can be done!). Well the door was about 8 inches higher, so after about 1 minute where we almost physically assaulted the guy, he finally got, “Get the DAMN ramp out of the way, I flipped up my casters and with a push from Linda pulled myself in. Since that was their ONLY ramp I guess I would have been stuck in that transfer city….forever if I followed the JR way.
At the JR Shinjuku terminal (busiest in the world, I think with over 3 million people a day – and saw my first other wheelchair user, a rigid chair – yet to see my first self propelled user – saw another user who had a collapsible and I guess if a country where ONLY collapsible wheelchairs are accommodated that is what you end up getting. Though as Cheryl and anyone who has used a collapsible wheelchair for a few hours/days can tell you – they are CRAP) – at the station we got into two lines to change the reservations from 12:30 back to the 1:35 they should be. Linda did the, “The reservations are wrong, you need to change them” and got nowhere as the, “No, no nothing can be done, this is a wheelchair, only one wheelchair space all train.” And nothing would budge them. I was next in my line and asked Linda for the passes and then pushed our original trains to Kanazawa schedule over with “Two green car passes please” And presto chango – we had our passes for the original time. Then, as she stood up to give them to me she saw I was in a wheelchair and started to freak, “Eie, No!, No!” and I just smiled and nodded, and thanked her and handed the tickets to Linda and we wheeled to the luggage lockers. Fuck JR. I mean this in the nicest possible way but there are THREE experiences we are having of Japan. 1) Anything built after or around the disability act and the general Japanese people. We went to a cherry bark place to see artists at work and the ENTIRE two story building was accessible – we did not expect that but the building is about 10 years old. And everywhere we go, people get out of elevators, help in many ways (actually they often get out of elevator with a look of fear but still). 2) Traditional Japan – this is any sight or any thing that is “traditional” so for example, we went in Kakunodate to see Samurai houses. Samurai houses have gates that have giant bars at the bottom making it impossible to get across in a wheelchair. None of them had ramps or other ways in – this was a Samurai house and how dare you mess with heritage. This is true also true for Baths even in ‘accessilbe’ which are ridiculously high and other things (like a single step; up into everything, I think from the time you stepped over things). And 3) The JR experience which makes me want to pit JR versus my mother or grandmother and see who would win (controlling, preordained expectations, iron will). In fact, almost every GREAT experience we have is FAR away from JR – only the only way to see Japan, or even a city like Tokyo is by JR (because the subway is even worse!). For example, we have missed times, missed trains, because we are PHYSICALLY stopped from getting on the EXACT same trains in Tokyo we have been caster flipping across for two days because a JR MAN has NOTICED and we MUST wait until the ramp can be brought. Or another example, in Shinjuku, the busiest train station in the world there are four levels and 15 platforms. What is signposted NOWHERE is that the ONLY way to get from the train you have arrived in to the street is to go up a floor, go to the elevator to platform 7, go to the train level at one end, wheel ALL the way to the end of the platform at the other end and THERE you will find a elevator which lets you down to the street level which is actually at the FAR end, where you just wheeled from – that took us 40 minutes and about 4 or 5 platforms to discover and at the best of times about 15-20 minutes to wheel and about 10,000 people to avoid. On the other hand, would we find the all trains we need without the JR men? Maybe not, but it works best when we are working TOGETHER. If JR could accept that wheelchair users are people instead of potential bombs of embarrassment for JR, our trip would be a LOT happier.
Okay, got to Otome Road which was obvious by the adverts of Boy-Love novels at the front of the road. And then we got to the nine story girl manga/anime shrine: Animate. Each floor is dedicated to a different thing, we went to Girl’s Shojo Manga (read BOY/BOY love) on floor 3 and Floor 5 which is “additional merchandise.” On the ground floor there are the machines which give you figurines to assemble for a couple hundred yen – I got three of them. On floor three we found out anime has a “no pictures inside policy” (I never can get a clear answer on when you can and can’t take pictures). But here I am in the Yaoi or Boy/Boy love section.
To get up to the fifth floor with the postcards and stuff I had to remove my backpack off the chair AND the chair legs to get in the elevator much less roll around. I couldn’t read anything in terms of prices and just grabbed anything that looked fun. Here is SOME of my haul. I ended up with with some Yuri (girl/girl) items including a notebook for writing letters (oh the elegant girl on girl love of private schools!). And a new mousepad from the Series Clannad which is lesbian love gone wild last I watched.
I also got a Lucky Star Yuri postcard and a postcard from my favourite and Linda’s fav manga/anime: Strawberry Marshmallow (along with assorted girl/girl love postcards, some naughty, some nice.
Then we go into the dark and sensual world of BOY LOVE. I got several art pieces of boy love including a couple where they are anime cells layered to make a 3-D view.
Though as I said to Cheryl, that I could ALMOST go for guys if there WERE guys who looked like this, in fact most Yaoi I prefer doesn’t have explicit sex scenes and I like it when they DON’T take off the shirt (allow me my illusions!).
I also got some pic postcards to send out to all the anime loving and perverts out there (You know I am talking about you!). Not a bad haul for 25 minutes of shopping, then Linda went and found Aria and other great post cards at K-books, which the first floor was accessible but the rest were not. They were a great deal with two post cards for 100 yen, while Animate was like 150 yen a postcard. But we qualified for a 6 pack of Aria for 150 yen next week if we go BACK to Animate. As for me, I wanted Linda to go through the bin at K-Books and get me more naughty girl on girl action postcards. So you are getting mostly the postcards I am NOT keeping. I got some posters and a box of something involving a shrine maiden (some sort of food, I will find out later).
We only had 45 minutes in total to shop Otome Road because of the “help” we had received earlier. So we went from there to do more Purikura because Linda loves them – they are like doing scrap-booking right away – you take the shots, you keep 4-6 and then you put things all over them. Of course we have to make all sorts of decisions, which we let time out so we get the default. So now ALL postcards will have a sticker of at least one of us on them (Sorry earlier people, but you got really nice art cards, and who knows if I have more time I will send y’all another postcard with a sticker on it too – but I do have over 40 postcards to send out just to READERS – good thing I have very few real time friends eh?) I do enjoy it, finding postcards is like my thing now, plus buying stuff for later, when I won’t, can’t travel.
The truth is that picking out things by saying in your mind, “This is the 3-D Ghibli card I want beside me when I spend the days in that hospital bed.” is hard and emotionally painful. And knowing that there are many people I know in conditions like that makes me buy pretty much anything I think will make a difference. So often I get a bit teary because you have to decide things about your future and what will give you hope and a happy memory at a time when you are trying to stay busy building those memories. It sucks but also kinda reminds me why I am taking this trip (both the good bits and the ‘not going to make any more big trips’ bit). Please note that cruel Linda REFUSED to let me buy a naughty girl on girl anime puzzle this morning I EMOTIONALLY NEEDED (even AFTER I promised not to send it to her evangelical brother’s children and said it was for me). Japan has put Linda back into the closet. Or rather, when the person holding the money isn’t as openly a perv as you are, conflicts WILL arise.
So, this is where we are heading back and my front caster goes, and after a few minutes trying to pop the rubber back on I find if I lean WAY back I can roll on the back two wheels and let us get going to ShinJuku from Ikebukuro station and then on to Tokyo for the train.
Only between us and there is not just going on three wheels but: 1) the elevator at Ikeburkuro station is broken and this brings us to the attention of the JR man who will not allow us to board two trains going to Shinjuku because the ramp is not there. We arrive at Shinjuku and are brought to a station line but the train which goes on the line has crashed not 2 minutes before and after 10-15 minutes the JR man tells us this, we explain about getting on a train at Tokyo station and he says to go on another train (number 15) – only we can’t board THAT train either (ramp must arrive). Then the JR man sends us on this “circle line” the WRONG way – so it takes MORE time to get from point A to Tokyo Station and we arrive with…..7 minutes to make the transfer. There are two guys there (one from before) who take us to the secret back world of the station for people who work there with their own elevator system and flooring which, oddly enough, has a clearly marked WHEELCHAIR LANE for everyone to be clear of (the people who work at the station) – this is something the actual station where the 3 million passengers going through daily does NOT have. We are running/wheeling so fast and get there with 3 minutes to spare. So, on the train! I was in a bit of a mess since the heat and the exertion was pretty extreme and I had to crawl up stairs to my seat. I am put on oxygen and later, I need to go to the bathroom and I collapse and I try to drag myself AND my 9 lb (Ha – try 50lb) oxygen concentrator along the ground until I just lay down my head and Linda finds me and we get back to the seat and back to the wheelchair and make the transfer onto this train to Kanazawa.
Now we are going through mountains and snow and plains and at one point a fire burning on the grass siding three feet from the window toward Kanazawa where among Samurai districts and noble gardens and silk kimono’s we HOPE there is someone who can pop the solid rubber back on the caster.
End notes,Things Japan has that annoy me to the extreme:
Drunk Japanese men – they are everywhere and they weave and it is hard enough not hitting people, they also have a tendency to try and climb in your lap.
The fucking JR exit: The ONLY way a wheelchair can exit or move from station side to another side is to exit which uses a open/close walkthough system like London underground. Except there is a special wider one for wheelchairs which they put at the JR INFORMATION counter. So every journey, even just two stations in Tokyo I have to go to this counter, wait for the 6 people to have their question answered, try to get through, have a drunk man come from the other side (as it is open to both sides), to ask a question. It takes so much time and when we go 5 or 6 stations in one day makes a tiring and irritating experience so that you start just explosively swearing.
Sidewalks: The rest of the world is discovering the use of them, why not try them out here? And to bicycles….actually wheelchairs DO have the right of way on sidewalks. I seriously avoid about 10-30 accidents every day and make about 2-3 contacts, nothing serious so far (except the caster, who knows how that happened). I had a guy literally ride his bike into the side of my chair except I did a 360 spin to avoid him.
Bathroom towels – not a single bathroom has towels or any other way for drying hands. And it isn’t for conservation (millions of bottle are thrown out a day). Many bathrooms have no soap either.
Things I Like:
Vending machines: easy, and everywhere.
People being excessively polite – sort of like Canada some days but without people saying the F word all the time.
People helping strangers instead of staying away.
Loli Goths and Shrine Maidens.
Post Script: Though we thought we had communicated the problem clearly with JR, we arrived at the station to find, a) No Ramp, so we had to sort of fall backward off the train and b) a folding wheelchair for me to use. Not. Everyone who sees the rubber off the caster does the exact same thing (particularly EVERY male), which is try to push it back on, as if we HAVEN’T thought of that or tried with leverage to do it. It is hard rubber and needs a stretcher like car tire stores have. So JR guy tries this and then, when it fails, JR, who regularly repairs TRAINS, tells us that “Tourist information” will help us. We go and were lucky enough to find Kouri, a volunteer English speaker who volunteered to come with us to the local wheelchair place and with Linda to the hotel. At the wheelchair place they a) try to push the rubber back in and b) tell us this is impossible and maybe they could get another caster in 5 weeks or so. I ask where people with wheelchairs get wheelchairs repaired and they say the manufacturer sends out a replacement while repair is made. I point out that this isn’t the first problem I have had, what would I do if I am Japanese? Phone the manufacturer, tell them where I am stuck on the sidewalk and wait a few days or a wheelchair to arrive.
“Oh no,” I am told, “your carer/keeper would take you home.”
It is explained that a person in a wheelchair does not go out unaccompanied. They have a person who must travel with them. This is from the people who SELL wheelchairs (but do no repairs). I ask Kouri if this is true. She says that maybe someone in a wheelchair does go out alone but she has never seen it (in her mid twenties), and she goes to Tokyo all the time.
Wow, can’t go out alone. I guess I know why I rate lower than women, children and small pets. Anyway, at this point I am trying to explain that ANY 5 inch caster would work and can I buy the caster or a cheap chair and GET the casters (hey it is $1000+ or end the trip today) when the warm environment takes me over though I am on oxy and have a emergency break cold pack in my bra. I fall to the floor and am there fading in and out for some time, loss of speech and swallow. This is a bit of a dodgy day as I am reminded forcibly how closely I am at all times to having this “Dai Boken” end – just a single rubber off a caster or one long and bad episode. The wheelchair people have come back from a cycle repair shop which has put the hard rubber tube BACK on the chair and I can leave, as soon as I CAN leave. I am lifted into the chair after some debate on if I should go to hospital. We convince them the hospital can’t fix this and Kouri walked me and Linda to our hotel where our room on the QUIET side with air conditioning is waiting. It has been two hours Kouri has stayed with us to translate and we take her picture as the person who turned a horrid experience into something survivable – we still have Kanazawa and the rest of the trip thanks to the kindness of Kouri.
Of course the “air conditioning” in the room blows out hot air and we have to change to the “noisy side” where we can hear the walking of each person upstairs. We will see how it goes and if we need to change rooms or hotels, then try and do that tomorrow. Linda got me to bed and now, to sleep again once this is posted. So, wanted more time shopping but are here in Kanazawa with a working wheelchair and hopes for sleep tonight. A day of ups and downs for sure and finding out that a person in a wheelchair needs a keeper is a bit of a shock (hey, someone tell the SCI para’s in Canada, that look on their face should be worth a laugh). Anyway, keeper or not, I am back on the road after our two or three daily disasters.
2 hours ago