Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Public Transportation Part I

Getting Lost Twice and Finally Finding the Way

Nikki Friday, January 13, 2006

“Now you must understand that I’ve lived in a suburbia all my life. This means that big cities utterly confuse me. You must also remember that my sense of direction is somewhat lacking. All this is to say, I’m not one who knows how to get around by myself.

“It’s bad enough if I have to get by in an unfamiliar large city in America (I had a horrible experience with the Metrolink in San Bernardino), but it’s worse in Japan. At least in America, I can read the street names and know which landmarks are common and which ones are rare. In Japan, my reference points are few and far between.

“Nonetheless, to get from my homestay to Nanzan, it’s necessary to use the subway and walk—no cars, no getting a ride from my mom.”

That first day I met my host family, Mayumi, my host mother walked me from the house to the subway station, and then back. The next morning, she walked me to the station. She asked me if I knew the way back. I said yes.

Of course I got lost.

I say this dryly now, but at the time, it was no laughing matter. Thanks to the late University Orientation and the early sunsets of winter, it was dark when I emerged from the subway. I was utterly alone. Buildings were lit eerily. I went one way and found familiar-looking buildings, but when I followed them, I seemed to go nowhere. I went another way and came to rows of bicycles and a concrete bridge near the end of the highway—neither of which looked remotely familiar. I was on the verge of panic, wandering back and forth, fearful, confused, growing more and more distraught, all the while the phrase me host mother had said earlier that morning, “gambate kudasai” (please try) rang in my head. (She had used it in reference to a placement test I had taken that morning.) Try, I had to try, I had to try and find my way, because I was not in California, I could not rely on getting rides from people, I had to master the basics of public transportation, I had to try….

But at last I broke down and went back to the station. I called Mayumi and she picked me up and took me home.

As bad as that was, it could have been worse. I was utterly ignorant in the face of public transportation. I had told Mayumi, I knew the way back and I thought I did, but the reality was, I barely knew what to look for and my knowledge of the area was sketchy at best. While Mayumi was showing me the way to and from the subway system, I was focused on trying to speak to her in Japanese—so I missed the most important parts of my surroundings. For instance, I forgot which entrance/exit we came in from. (This is very important, since each exit takes you to different parts of the area, and at my station there were six possible exits.) I also very nearly forgot the name of my station—Ozone. (Pronounced O-zo-nay; although at the time, I read it as Ozone and that helped me remember it.) If I had forgotten it, I shudder to think what I would have done when trying to get home that night.

That night, as I tried to recover from my fear, I made a resolve: since my memory failed me, I would use my digital camera to take pictures of the area; that way, I could look back at the landmarks and follow them back. The next morning, after carefully, confirming my exit number with my host mother (Exit 6), I set off, camera in hand.

The morning got off to an ominous start as I got lost trying to find Ozone station.

Lost is actually a harsh word: a better word would be mixed-up. I was headed in the right direction, but I didn’t know where to turn on which street, so I had to ask for directions. The man I asked, actually walked me to the station, but I was dismayed to find I had entered through # 2—again, the wrong way. I wanted to go back, retrace my steps and find where I had gone wrong—but there was no time; I was going to be late for class.

Coming back, I discovered that my pictures had sizable gaps in it; nonetheless, I was starting to get a very general idea of the area. It was daylight and I felt quite assured, passing things that looked familiar…

….Until I began to get mixed up again.

Looking back, I can see how it happened. I was doing fine until I came to a Pachinko parlor. Now the Pachinko parlor was one of the landmarks I had taken a picture of; I had seen the sign as I passed it on my way to school. The problem was there were two of the exact same signs: one facing towards my house and the other facing in the opposite direction. I, unfortunately, went in the opposite direction.

As things began to look less and less familiar, I stumbled upon a shrine. The first day there, my host mother had made a note that the Haku Zan shrine was right next to her house, and, since I understood the name’s meaning (White Mountain), I remembered it. The problem was the shrine looked different—and I couldn’t find the Araki house anywhere. I found a map of the Yamada Housing Complex, and whipped out a paper with my host family’s address on it. 2-21 Yada.

“So, it must be nearby,” I muttered to myself, mistaking Yamada for Yada. I hunted around until dogs started barking—then I retreated back to the shrine. I asked a woman with a kid walking by if she knew the address. She didn’t.

“But it must be around this area,” I said, pointing to the map. Then I realized my mistake. I was no where near the Araki house. I was somewhere else entirely.

At this time, I was more frustrated than anything else. I had gotten lost again. What was worse, this time I didn’t even know my way back to Ozone station. It was cold and I was tired. I asked directions to the station, and was on my way there. Then I got an idea. I had the address. Maybe someone would know where the house was. I decided to ask an old woman if she knew 2-21 Yada.

She didn’t, but before I could reassure that was fine, she pulled over an old man walking by and asked him if he knew. He didn’t, so he pulled over a man on a bicycle delivering papers. They passed around my paper, while I stood there, flustered and embarrassed.

The newspaper man recognized my host family’s name. He knew where the house was.

“Yatta,” said the woman I had pulled over first. (“We did it.”)

“Yatta,” I agreed. “Arigatou gozaimasu.” (“Thank you very much.”)

The man with the papers had work to do, so he gave directions to the other man and he walked me back. I began to release my breath as things became familiar. I whipped out my camera. Sure enough, we were passing all the landmarks I had taken pictures of earlier. Before long, I was back.

I barely had time to thank the man before he left.

My host family had been worried about me. They’d even searched around the area for me. I had to tell them I got lost again.

“Next time,” I told my host mother, “can you draw a map?”


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