Japan. No problem.

Many people in Hawaii have been to Japan many times, know their way around. This story is not for them.


(page 2 of 5)

Kyoto's Golden Pavilion

Photo: Floyd K. Takeuchi

At Odawara, I was concerned how I would find the buses at the East Exit. But the signs said, in English, East Exit. Even at the bus station, hardly a normal tourist route, a woman dispatcher took pains to get me on the right bus with the proper ticket.

Getting to Hakone-en had been a launch into the unknown—but apparently an entirely safe one. It would have been easy to retrace my steps. But with the road to Odawara closed in the storm, that was no longer an option.

There was no helpful concierge with perfect English in Hakone-en. I did my best to communicate my dilemma to the desk staff, politely and calmly as I could manage.

No, I couldn’t get to Odawara by taxi. I must have seemed retarded to them. The road was closed, period. No one knew when it would reopen. The clerks conferred among themselves, a clutch of black suits. Finally, one of them got stuck with the job of helping me.

After some back and forth, a lot of writing things down, I understood that there was a better road, to a place called Yumoto. It wasn’t on my map.

From Yumoto, the clerk patiently communicated, I could catch not the bullet train I wanted, but “different train.” That train didn’t go to Tokyo Station, but to Shinjuku.

OK, I thought, Shinjuku’s a district of Tokyo. From there, with a subway map, I can probably puzzle my way back to Akasaka.

Everyone in Japan is scrupulous about explaining what things cost. A taxi to Yumoto, apparently a long way, would run at least $60, said the clerk. In addition, I would probably have to pay for the ticket to Shinjuku. Damn, the bus would only have been $12 and the bullet train was already paid for.

However, considering the alternatives, would you please call me a taxi to Yumoto?

Not possible. But if I checked out and hung around in the lobby, a taxi might arrive with “check-in guest.” Really, I thought, who would be that crazy? The clerk gestured toward the lobby couches and said, “Wait.”

Yes, that I could manage.

You can rocket all around Tokyo for a dollar or so by taking the incredibly well-marked
and efficient subway.

Photo: John Heckathorn

Half-an-hour later, a little black taxi finally pulled up with an arrival. I told the bellman where I wanted to go, he blinked. Oops. I handed him my little slip of paper instead. OK, we’re off.

Oh Lord, this is the “good road?” It’s in good repair, but it has switchbacks so hairy that there are diagonal red slashes painted on the asphalt to slow drivers so they don’t go hurtling off the mountain.

Japanese taxi drivers, who even in Hakone-en wear blue uniforms, blue caps, white gloves, are usually taciturn. Mine, a grizzled old soul, is humming and chuckling to himself. When we get there, 40 minutes of winding road later, I pay him the $50 on the meter, less than I was warned, but Japanese taxis are on the up and up. As I get out, he’s warm and friendly, happy that he’s gotten me to the station. He points it out to me several times, despite the fact it’s right on the other side of the road.

I used to drive a cab. It dawns on me that he expected to deadhead back to the station without a fare. Since he’s had a fare both ways, he’s made $100 by 9:30 in the morning. He’s having a good day.

As Japanese train stations go, the little yellow-painted station at Yumoto is not much. Many of the Tokyo stations have hotels and department stores and underground passages that go as deep as 200 feet below sea level. Yumoto Station is all above ground, perched on the side of the mountain. On its two tracks, I can see small yellow trains.

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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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