Vs. Battle – Japanese Transit

Or How the Whole of Japan Will Make Sure You Get There

TL:DR
Japanese Transit requires a decoder ring and the Japanese are super polite and helpful.

With most people I know suffering through the first deep freeze of the winter, I am reminded that it was cold in Tokyo and that I have more things to share.
Before anyone calls out wuss, I might remind you that while it doesn’t freeze here in Guangzhou, there’s no respite from the cold either. If it’s cold out there, it’s cold in here (in my apartment). Maybe it was concrete or maybe it was the wind, but despite the positive single-digit temperatures, it felt a lot colder than I think it should have. However, we were all travellers and we had things to see! Like a hot bowl of ramen. We parted the wind like– no. We didn’t part the wind. It blasted us with all its arctic ferocity which only made the ramen that much better.

After our meal, we continued our blistery stroll to the nearest light rail station. When we all arrived in Tokyo, I assumed I would be able to pick up a transit card anywhere, and figured I’d be able to get one at any transit station. I also figured I’d get cash from an ATM. At this moment, it wasn’t easy to do either of those things. My friends and I searched the station for someone that offered cards for sale but found nothing but ticket dispensers and recharge stations. Similarly, there were no ATMs that would accept international cards. Luckily my friend was prepared and purchased a ticket for me. He and his fam had cards from their previous trip, which they picked up at kiosks at the airport.

So somewhat defeated, we made our way to Hondo-ji temple in the Matsudo area. It was only two or three stops from our station and was easy to find (Google Maps FTW). I’m assuming that some of you are at least vaguely aware of Japan’s love affair with vending machines. They are everywhere. I won’t say they are on every street corner, but there’s always one close by. Depending on the area, you will find a range of different beverages available. I will state now that I didn’t see any of the weird or taboo machines that you may have heard of (like the one for used panties). But within a couple of minutes of anywhere, guaranteed you’d be able to score yourself a can of hot coffee, or any other type of soft beverage. In the more late night oriented districts, tall cans of Asahi Special Dry or Sapporo Beer could also be found. Hondo-ji only had soft beverages, and the can of hot coffee that was purchased for me was more than welcomed. It served as warmth for my hands for a few moments before I cracked it open.

After the temple, we made our way back, stopping at a Lawsons Station (a rival convenience store to 7-Eleven, which are also everywhere) as well as a bank. Finally money. Again, we searched for a place for transit cards but still nothing. The only thing that ran through my mind was how can a country SO reliant on transit not have these cards in every store? Purchasing my own ticket this time, we arrived back to our point of departure. It was decided that it was too far and too cold to walk home by half of our party. Taxi’s are ridiculously expensive, so it would be by bus that we would return to our AirBnB. Google and whatever apps my companions were using were useless in determining what bus to take, and where to get on. We tried asking some people outside, but communication wasn’t happening. One person led us to Koban, a police-box, where an officer and receptionist helped us out. The officer went so far as to walk us back to the bus-stop and wish us luck on our journey home. Eventually, our bus came, and we got on.
And started moving.
In the wrong direction.
A retired looking gentleman sitting at the rear of the bus overheard our conversation and in near perfect English (SHOCK) offered to help us out. We not only were travelling in the wrong direction, but we were also using the wrong bus system. We were to get on a much larger bus and wait at a different stop a few steps away. He brought our plight to the attention of the bus driver, explaining our situation to him on our behalf. At the next stop, the bus driver guided us out of the bus following right behind, foregoing our payment (you pay by a per-stop/distance system) and showed us exactly where we needed to stand for the return bus. We all gracefully bowed and arigato-s were exchanged. Sure enough, the return bus came along, we boarded back to the station and got on the right bus the next time around.

Upon returning home, I looked up where the hell I was supposed to get a transit card. I was looking at retailers the entire time I was at every station I had been at. The card charging machines are also dispensers. They will spit out a new card for ¥500, plus whatever amount you put on it. Later that night we took in the sights and many, many sounds of Akihabara (the geek mecca of Japan). After successfully using the charging machines to procure my transit card, we stared up the transit maps on the walls. Looking at hieroglyphs would have been easier to decipher than the maps. Trying to make sense of what we were seeing, and what Google had to say, was like trying to put the square shape through the circle hole. Again, we asked for help from a random commuter. In utmost politeness and courtesy, the brought us to the correct gate and told us how many stops, before going in a completely different direction.

This willingness to help repeated numerous times throughout our week-long trip. It was never an answer of “over there,” but a detour being made by the one helping us, offering us as much help that they can give stopping short of going with us the entire way–at least almost. That’s a different story. Canadians are generally know for being the friendly and polite ones. Sorry my fellow Canucks– we need to step our game.

Next time, Sapporo and the heated toilet seats. Best. Band. Ever.