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.
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.