Feb 022007

Spending the day in quiet little Shimoda after a crazy weekend in Tokyo really made me realize how much of a cityboy I am. Obviously I love visiting these small towns, interacting with the locals, popping into ramen shops and chatting with the owners, but in the long run I just need more variety than such a place can offer. I think I’d go crazy living somewhere with one bar, one restaurant, one park, and no gym. Even Kyoto is fairly small for my taste, but it manages to remain intriguing because of its people, tradition, and natural beauty. And if I ever get bored, Osaka is just a 45-minute train ride away. But living in the countryside, or somewhere out in “Middle America?” I’d go absolutely nuts.

Anyways, after waking up in my ryokan (which was probably built well before the US even existed), I spent the first few hours of the day exploring the corners of the small fishing village on foot. It had all the usual temples, shrines, izakaya, and manga shops that I’ve grown to expect. But it also had something most unexpected: the site of the first ever US Consulate in Japan. Wow…Shimoda sure has a lot of history for such a “no-name” town 😛

During my wanderings I also noticed a poster for a festival in the area, which a passer-by instructed me lie only 15 minutes away by bus. Well, it was such a beautiful day that I decided to just make my way there on foot.

Big mistake.

In Kyoto, a 15 minute bus ride usually translates to something like a 30 minute walk (due to city traffic), but this walk took me over 3 hours. Because I decided that rather than putting my 40 pound backpack in a coin locker and risk having to backtrack later, I’d just carry it the whole way. And because the woman who gave me directions failed to mention that there was a mountain between me and the festival. D’oh.

But it paid off in the end; the “festival” turned out to be a beautiful beachfront field of flowers which bloom only during a short time in the winter. I roamed around, took ample photographs, and rode the bus back into town.

By the time I made it back I was absolutely starving from the extended exertion, especially considering that I’d eaten almost nothing for breakfast. So I opened up my wallet. And realized that I was completely out of money.

No problem, I’ll just pay by credit card, right? Nope! Japan is a cash only society. You got a $1000 down-payment for your apartment? You walk right in there with a fat wad of bills. For the life of me I can’t figure out why…especially when banks close ludicrously early (something like 3pm) and most ATMs aren’t even opened 24 hours. Which is what posed such a big problem for me. It was still the New Year holiday and I was in the middle of nowhere, so every bank and ATM in sight was shut down…for the next three days. I had no way to access any cash!

But luckily, after about 20 minutes of phone calls by an incredibly helpful team of giggling female clerks at a nearby supermarket, I was able to locate an ATM in a convenience store just one town over: Shirahama, home to a beautiful white-sanded beach that’s often referred to as the “sister of Waikiki.” I reached in my pocket. Just enough change for one McDonald’s cheeseburger and the bus fare over. Perfect!

(Note: The smallest paper money in Japan is $10, and coins go up to $5 each…so by “change” I really mean something like $3-$4).

Although the weather was less than ideal for a beach day (freezing winds blowing sand in my eyes and chilling my fingers beyond uselessness), I figured that since I was already here I might as well give the place my usual walk-through. And while I was at it I could keep my eyes peeled for for a spot to plug in my laptop and backup my SD card. I found one. A small janitor’s station at a public restroom wedged in a hillside with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.

You should’ve seen the look on the Japanese guy’s face who came in to take a leak and discovered a gaijin sitting on a huge backpack with a notebook PC and digital camera on his lap 🙂

After one more short bus ride back into Shimoda, I was really torn as to whether I should stay another night on the peninsula or head back to the city…but ultimately I decided to head back. Not because I felt like I’d seen everything I wanted to, but because, well, I really didn’t think I could afford another night at the Ryokan.

Yes, despite the fact that I absolutely love living in Japan, I must say that my pathetic salary is really starting to get on my nerves. Especially when I know what I should (and would) be getting if I were working back in LA. Why can’t Japanese companies pay based on skill and not something as meaningless as “age” or “rank?” And why do the salaries just suck in general, despite the high cost of living? I really wish I knew.

But I definitely wasn’t going to let a little shortage of funds hold me back, so I headed straight to Shibuya, the heart of Tokyo (er, one of several…) to try out another interesting concept I’d learned about during this increasingly educational week on the road.

More on that next time.

  8 Responses to “New Year 2007: A Day in Shimoda”

  1. I’ve been reading your blog for ages – yes, even while you were in the U.S. – and haven’t commented before. Suffice it to say that I just really enjoy reading your take on Japan.

    What prompted me to comment this time was the My Peace Prevail on Earth signpost in the photo above. I found the same signpost at the Begijnhof in Amsterdam. It doesn’t show in my photo, but the sentiment is written in Japanese on one side. If you don’t believe me:


    Is this some sort of worldwide phenomenon that I just don’t know about?

  2. Robin… unfortunately Peach on Earth is not a worldwide phenomenon. Perhaps the presence of signs proposing that policy IS a worldwide phenomenon.

    The above is not meant in any condescending way… rather it frustrates me that many people cry out for peach on earth on an inhale and then cry out for war with the exhale.

  3. those beaches are so beautiful. Isn’t it weird going to the beach when it is bitter cold outside? I don’t know why, but for me, since I have grown up with the beach being related to warmth, the first time I saw snow juxtaposed with ocean was shocking.

    i can totally imagine you in the bathroom on your computer….lol

  4. Robin: Thanks for commenting! I always love to hear from new people 🙂 That’s CRAZY about the likeness of those two signs on opposite ends of the world; I think it must be some sort of “global-wide campaign” as you suggest…like those peace cows in San Fransisco (er, I think it was san fransisco…?)

    Noz: I think that’s what she meant…that the signs are some worldwide thing, not the peace itself 😛

    Rachel: YES! It was so frustrating, I just wanted to jump in…but I would’ve turned into an ice cube in about 2 minutes.

  5. noz, what is peach on earth? you typed it like that twice….

    beaches looked unreal J

    miss you, so excited to see you in a few weeks….

    i hear ya on the low salary, but when you get down about it, just think about the cool stuff you’re seeing instead of “booger picking women” at the McDonalds over here right? 😉 I think your travels make up for the salary….:)

  6. How odd that I said “peach” instead of “peace.” I guess that robs me of any credibility I might have had. Damn.

  7. Justin: Guess I’ll comment more often, then! 🙂 It *is* weird that the same sign should show up in opposite corners of the world. I thought maybe you might have come across more in your travels; that’s why I mentioned it. I dunno about the peace cows in San Francisco, but I know we had some peace pandas around here a couple of years ago. Cute, but not quite so succinct!

    Noz: Justin was right about what I meant. Living in the U.S. – less than 15 miles from the White House, no less – I am all too aware that peace doesn’t prevail on Earth. As for losing your cred for typing “peach”…well, I’m right there with ya for typing “my peace prevail on Earth”. 🙂

  8. Please do! The work I put into these posts always feels much more rewarding when I have some tangible feedback/evidence of readers (aside from simple webstats :P)

    But nope…haven’t come across another one of those that I can remember. It’s possible that I just didn’t notice though…

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