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Life In The City, Death In The Forest

Tokyo intersection
Tokyo intersection

Like most major cities, Tokyo never sleeps, but it's metro system takes a nap from midnight to a little after five in the morning. This means that if you want to go out and you're too far to walk home and don't have $50 laying around to spend on a cab back, you've got two options: turn in early or stay out until the first train runs. Since Oliver—a Belgian guy I met in my hostel—and I had already missed the last train back while taking in the sights (read: high heels and short skirts) in Tokyo's busiest night district, we decided to go to one of the cities most famous clubs. No cover and $3 for all drinks all night so long as you had a drink in your hand at all times. Oliver and I were doing a good job of nursing drinks but the Boston University mens and womens Lacrosse teams that were in the bar and were comprised entirely out of people not old enough to drink in the United States, were not. When some girls we were dancing with suggested that we go to a different club, we gladly followed.

Less smoky, more mature, and full of female Russian fashion models, that club was a better fit. One of the girls we had followed to the club got a bit drunk and they took an Irish exit, but by that time I was well caught up in the music and dancing and hardly noticed. Around two of the French girls we were dancing with took an apropos French leave, and the really cute Japanese girls we were dancing with disappeared. We walked back to the first club to collect our things and then headed for the subway. A very large bowl of noodles in a window caught Oliver's eye and we were still a bit early for the first train so we stopped in for a bite. After ordering the largest bowl of udon I've ever seen and likely ever will see, I took a moment to survey the restaurant. Who should be seated directly next to us but the cute Japanese girls from the club.

Me and one of the Japanese girls in the restaurant
Me and one of the Japanese girls in the restaurant

The sun came up, Oliver finished his udon and we finally made it to the subway. We had missed the first train, which is usually crowded with other people in similar situations, and so too, apparently, had the French girls who were trying to buy tickets when we arrived. We made it back to our hostel around in the morning and had a strict (this is Japan we're talking here) check out time of . After an insufficiently short amount of sleep we both headed to Tokyo's "Freak Street" to gawk at the latest victims of Japans unusual fashion culture. Unfortunately the freaks weren't out at so I left Oliver and went to Mt. Fuji to take in a different grotesque sight.

I arrived at the city at the base of Mt. Fuji too late to do anything—like climb the mountain—so I decided to stay for the night. With little time left before my flight out of Japan I had to make a choice the : climb Mt. Fuji or visit Aokigahara, a forest famous for over a hundred Japanese people killing themselves there each year. I had already prepared my usual survival day pack including a knife, lighter, compass + mirror, rope, headlamp, water, snacks and cell phone. I figured it would be appropriate in either location, though the compass, mirror and cellphone are all ineffectual in the forest where thick tree cover and magnetic anomalies caused by the ferromagnetic rock from the volcano render them relatively useless.

Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji

I can see why Aokigahara is called "The perfect place to die"; the forest is beautiful, especially when you go off the hiking trail, which is what you need to do to find the bodies... Luckily once you go in a ways you can meet up with a long piece of white tape which someone has strung out so you can find your way back (if you're so inclined). I followed the white tape to the end, some 45 minutes into the thick, and didn't see much other than some cloths and random accessories. I would have liked to explore the forest more but I was out of time and had to haul ass to Osaka so I could spend a little time exploring that city before my flight to Taiwan.

Before we parted ways Oliver told me about a guy in Osaka that I should meet up with if I get the chance. I sent him a message and he met me at the subway station with a German guy that was crashing at his place. We walked back to his house, I put down my pack and no sooner than it hit the floor than he said: "Alright, are you ready to go?". "Ummm, yes?" And with that all three of us were off to an onsen. We enjoyed the spa then grabbed some dinner and immediately went to a bar. Different city, same situation: no more public transport. Luckily we were only a 20 minute walk away from home so the German guy and I headed back around four in the morning while our host stayed out and partied.

Takoyaki, traditional Osaka octopus balls
Takoyaki, traditional Osaka octopus balls

The lack of trains between midnight and 6am was really starting to bother me. I realized that if I was going to make my flight the next morning I'd have to be at the airport no later than 6am and it was over an hour and a half away from my hosts house. I resolved to leave at 10pm and sleep in the airport. All was going well with my plan until I reached my final transfer and they told me that there were no more trains to the airport that night. I took a train as far in that direction as I could. I arrived at my stop, about nine kilometers from the airport, just before midnight. The air was refreshing and I had already passed the wall of exhaustion so I decided to walk.

The Osaka Kansai airport rests on an island four kilometers off shore, connected to the land by a very long bridge. All was peaceful when I entered the bridge around one in the morning. I was making good progress on an audio book and a cool breeze was cooing the ocean to sleep. About two thirds of the way across the bridge I saw flashing lights on the ground in front of me and turned around to see a very large maintenance type vehicle pulled up behind me. I shut off my iPod, put down my pack and two Japanese highway patrolmen dressed in full rescue gear including reflective jump suits, helmets and harnesses, got out to talk to me. By talk I suppose I mean gesture since they didn't speak any English. I tried to explain my situation to one of the men—which seemed pretty obvious (where else would I be going?)—while the other man went back to the truck to retrieve a policeman's Japanese-to-English phrasebook. He started pointing to phrases, many of which made little sense or seemed fairly irrelevant. Still, I did my best to respond. Phrasebook: "You get with policeman take you". Ummm, ok. Phrasebook: "Please wait in safe place". I suppose the wide shoulder of this three-lane uninhabited bridge is about as good a place as any, not that I had any other options.

Bridge to Kansai airport
Bridge to Kansai airport

Shortly I saw more flashing lights come over the arch of the bridge. As I waited for vehicle to arrive the men started setting up flashing cones, as if the reflective truck with spinning lights wasn't visible enough to all the people that weren't driving over the bridge at . The police cruiser that pulled up had two more men and I got to try to explain my situation all over again to someone who doesn't speak English. I was so distracted that I didn't notice when the second cop car got there. That's when they put me in the back seat of the first cruiser. This may come as a surprise to many of you, but that was the first time I had ridden in the back of a cop car.

I had given my passport to the highway patrolman and it had since been passed around to most of the officers and my information written on many sheets of paper. An officer got in the car with me and began writing down my information again: "Bee-oh.... DANGER!!! Bee-oh danger?" It's not often that I get to legitimately use: "Danger's my middle name". I had been doing a good job of heading the lawyer from Nara's advice: "If you get into trouble, smile" and the officers all seemed to be taking it well and saw the humor in the situation too. All the officers except a slightly more rotund policeman that had arrived in the second car and seemed to be wearing two bullet proof vests and took out his flashlight light when questioning me. He was taking things seriously and I was having a hard time restraining myself from laughing, even with him. He got in the car and explained that the latest officer on the scene was a Sargent and that I needed to sign a statement saying I was really sorry. He handed me a sheet of paper with entirely Japanese writing and showed me where to sign. After signing he busted out some ink and I had to make a fingerprint impression on the paper.

He started the car and we took off in the only direction we could, toward the airport. As we were coming in he said: "You give me $3. Service" What? He repeated himself: "You give me $3. Service". "No" I replied. In any other Asian country I would have paid a policeman that solicited me, but that was Japan, things don't work like that there. Also, the ridiculously small amount of money he was asking for didn't seem right. Then he asked for $5 for each him and his partner, but again I refused. He continued questioning me: "What's your job?" I told him web developer. I usually tell people I don't have a home or job, but when dealing with officials that don't speak much English I've found it's easier to just give them my old information. He didn't understand web developer but eventually I was able to explain it to him. "Are you a cyber terrorist?" I told him I wasn't. They asked me where I was going and on what airline, and I told them. Then we pulled up to the terminal and they motioned for me to get out. Unlike in America, in Japanese cop cars the doors open from the inside and there's no divider between you and the officers. I got out and they escorted me into the terminal. They showed me a couple places I could sleep and asked which one I'd prefer. I motioned toward one and we walked over to it. I put down my pack and they sat down and questioned me some more. The strict officer motioned that he'd like to go through my pack so I opened it up. Like many people before him he quickly realized it would be an overwhelming effort and gave up. "Only where?" He said to me. I motioned that I didn't understand. He pointed to his cloths: "Only wear?". Oh, I get it. "Yeah, only wear." He hadn't actually seen any cloths in my pack and there were tons of things in there I'm sure I shouldn't have, but why argue?

Taipei skyline, ruled by Taipei tower
Taipei skyline, ruled by Taipei tower

Suffice to say I didn't get much sleep that night. The morning came and my flight to Taiwan went off without a hitch. Unfortunately there's no rest for the weary. I had arranged to stay with a girl from CouchSurfing but she didn't get off work until so I spent the day exploring the city, or more precisely it's delicious cuisine. At I met up with a different woman from CS and we shared some more Taiwanese specialties and talked about Taiwan and such. I told her where I was going next and mentioned that I might try hitchhiking there. It was the second time on my entire trip when I told someone I was going to hitchhike and they said that it was a good idea. She even went so far as to email me an article about someone having a great time hitchhiking across Taiwan (unfortunately it was in Chinese). She said the cops will even help make sure your sign is correct.

The next day I journeyed through the humid heat to the highway at the edge of town leading to my next destination. I was just beginning to make my sign while when a police car pulled up. Oh good, I thought, my traditional Chinese isn't so good, maybe they can make sure it's correct. I was quite surprised when the officer shook his head at me. "Freeway. No." He also didn't really speak English. I explained to him what I was trying to do and he repeated: "Freeway. No." "Ok" I told him. He took my passport and motioned for me to get in the back of the cruiser. Wow, picked up in two different countries in the span of two days. We took off and quickly made a u-turn and headed back into town. We pulled up under a bridge and he motioned for me to get out. Their cars also open from the inside. I got out and he got out with me. He handed me my passport and then motioned toward some stairs leading up to the subway. I motioned acknowledgement and he started toward the stairs. I followed him. He helped me buy a ticket back to Taipei main station, not that I really needed any help.

I think in the situation in Japan and in Taipei the officers thought I didn't know what I was doing and was somehow lost and confused. In both cases I was awfully far out of town and well on my way to my destination to be lost. Oh well, at least they were all helpful. I should probably try to avoid getting picked up by the police for a while though, it may make it hard for me to get into other countries...

Soundtrack: In The Middle (They Might Be Giants)


Evina Utami
June 4th, 2013 at 8:42 PM

I particularly like this piece of writing. Rock on, Beau!

If you're asking a question, it may be better to just email me at beau@dangertravels.com