Four sets of eyes looked up at me expecting me to deliver. I was down to 11,000 Yen in my wallet and while that may sound like a fortune, it certainly isn’t enough money to take with you to Edo Wonderland, the ninja theme park in Japan. The trip to this point has been an absolute disaster marred by tiny hotel beds, endless kilometers of wandering streets, a vast network of railway and subway lines, a painful illness, and a lack of viable food options. Our trip had taken us all through Japan and at the time of this story we were in a very wet, very cold, Nikko Japan. If I were to place our fun level on a meter through our first five days in Japan with ten being having the time of our lives and zero being hell, I would place it somewhere close to negative ten. Edo Wonderland was supposed to be the moment that all changed. There were ninja suits to buy, ninja stars to throw, and other fun activities that meant the kids could finally have a spot of fun. Chelsea had looked online at the Edo-Wonderland website and two ninja suits would cost about 10,000 yen. This meant that we would have no money to eat or do anything else once we arrived in Edo. It was left to me to figure out our financial situation and I had less than forty five minutes to do so. Oh and by the way, it was around fifty degrees and we were caught in a driving rain storm.
Perhaps the first thing you should know about running out of Yen in Japan is simply not to do so. Outside of Tokyo very few businesses take foreign credit or debit cards and fewer ATM’s. This means that when you run out of money, you are screwed, especially if it’s a Sunday and everything’s closed. Did I mention that it was a Sunday? Well it was. A woman at the Tobu line train station had mentioned to me that there was a post office down the main street about a 1km away that would take foreign ATM cards. So I sprinted to the nearest cab and found a Japanese man snoozing. Not a good sign. This is perhaps a good time to tell you that cab drivers in Japan are absolutely worthless. The town of Nikko is very small. Each time I jumped in a cab I would have the name of the location I wanted in Japanese, a map where I had circled my destination, and a translation device that allowed me to be very specific. You would think that this meant a slam dunk for a cab driver, not so in Japan. Each time I entered a cab they had no clue where I was trying to go. I often had to direct them from my map to my location. This made taking cabs extremely annoying. On this morning however, I was desperate. The trip had been totally lame to this point and my wife and I needed something to happen in Japan that would leave us with a positive memory. So I entered the cab, showed the Japanese gentlemen in the front all of my information and he displayed a face that looked like I was trying to have him translate Homer’s The Illyad from Koine Greek into Japanese. After a few minutes of back in forth banter the cab began to roll forward and the man drove me to a post office about a block from our location. It had an international ATM so I got out and proceeded toward the ATM. Only one problem, it was Sunday and the doors were locked. Did I mention that it was raining and that I had a fever of 102 degrees with painful chills because it was and I did. Before I knew it I had a small Japanese man holding out his hand and saying something about how I owed him seven hundred yen. If you have your abacus out I was now down to 10,300 yen and no closer to my goal of buying the children Ninja suits. Dejected, I walked back to the JR Railway station that the free shuttle for Edo Wonderland departed from. At this point I only had about half an hour before the shuttle was scheduled to arrive and my cash flow problems were only getting worse. My journey brought me by yet another ATM that did not take foreign credit cards and by the time I made it back to my family I was soaking wet, more broke than when I left, and shivering. Things were not looking good for Edo Wonderland.
As I approached my family, my spirits were lifted slightly by the sight of my second son, Conner, running excitedly to see me. Apparently he missed me and was glad to see me. He was unaware or at least unconcerned with my failure to acquire more yen and the look on his face was priceless. I scooped him up in my arms and proceeded toward the other members of my family. Apparently my wife had anticipated failure and been working on a contingency plan with a Japanese man who worked at the railway station. The Japanese man told me of a 7-11 store (yes they have those there) that had an ATM machine. It was apparently about a half an hour walk, but If I hurried I might make it back in time to make the shuttle. Once again I found myself starring at four sets of hopeful eyes. I laid my thirty-pound back pack on the pavement and listened as the man pointed through the driving rain at a stop light two blocks in the distance. All I had to do was run to the second stop light and take a left. The seven eleven and the ATM machine of destiny lied within. Only one thought went through my brain as I listened to the man describe my path: ninja suits. With one final glance back toward my family and a chant of “Daddy! Daddy!” rising in my ears, I started into the rain toward 7-11 and the promised ATM machine.
My trek began as a sprint and then turned into a labored jog and settled somewhere around aggressive speed walking. The exact time it took to change from me to go from sprinting to walking is unclear in my mind, know only that I ran for sometime. After all, each step I took was a step closer to the ATM machine of destiny and my son’s ninja suits. About twenty minutes into my journey I noticed a few things of importance. One, I had not seen a hint of a seven eleven and two, I was starting to enter the country side. Only a few scattered houses peppered the landscape around me. Outside of one of them stood an ancient Japanese woman in the rain. She might have been dead except that she spoke to me. I was taken aback at the sounds coming from her mouth despite a lack of other visible signs of life. Panting heavily I removed my trusty smart phone and typed in the phrase “where is the seven eleven?” She would not glance at my phone, she simply yelled at me, apparently it bothered her that I was running in the rain without an umbrella. At this point I looked at my phone, I only had five minutes left before the shuttle. I had failed. Rain streaked down the front of my smart phone and I made the decision to turn around.
The trip back was notably slower than my initial departure. I began to notice how cold I was and the fact that my clothes were soaked through to my underwear. The Japanese who drove by me gave furtive glances as I walked by, all I could do was smile, imagining how I must look to them. I noticed that I could see my breath as I trudged back toward the train station and began to question the sense that I had displayed jogging out into the rain. After all, I was sick and maybe this wasn’t worth the effort. I just wanted my kids to have a positive memory of Japan and have some damn ninja suits, was that too much to ask? My journey back took me near a Chinese restaurant. I decided to pop in and ask if they knew where a Seven Eleven was. After a few minutes and translation attempts with my smart phone, I found out that the man at the train station had left out a two necessary turns to make it to seven eleven. What I didn’t know because I was sprinting in the rain was that the Japanese man at the train station realized his error and came running after me to tell me that he gave me poor directions. Unfortunately I am faster than he and I would not find out his news until I returned to the train station many minutes later. In any case, armed with accurate directions, I decided to go to the seven eleven. The shuttle was long gone by this point, but I figured, at least I wouldn’t come back empty handed. Ten minutes later, cold and shivering, I entered the seven eleven and approached the ATM of destiny. As I entered my card a thought occurred to me, what if the ATM machine of destiny doesn’t accept foreign credit cards? It didn’t and all of my efforts were for nothing. It was all I could do to laugh at the hilarity of my situation. About twenty minutes later I arrived back at the train station, cold and just as broke as the moment I left. The Japanese man felt awful and my family was appreciative of my sacrifice, but the damage was done.
After an hour or so we found the one ATM that worked in Nikko and after a few meltdowns we found ourselves outside the free shuttle waiting for the 13:30 departure. Before we got on the shuttle the bus driver stepped out dressed like a samurai and proceeded to make an important announcement in Japanese. Just in case you forgot, it is still raining at this point and I am soaked through and through. Shivering and starring at this loquacious Japanese man I can’t help but start to feel angry at the man pulling his best Ken Watanbee from The Last Samurai. After a few minutes, the man asked if any of us spoke Japanese. The answer was no of course so he repeated the entire speech in a mixture of Japanese and English. I’ll spare you most of the details, the important part was that even though Edo-Wonderland doesn’t close until 5:00 PM, the last shuttle back to Nikko departed at 3:00. In other words we were only going to have roughly an hour at the park if we were going to take the shuttle. Lame. Plan B turned out to be a 5000 Yen taxi ride back to Nikko. Whatever, at this point I would have given my left arm for those damn ninja suits. Before boarding the shuttle my wife looked at me and asked, “Are your lips blue?” I said “no”, but she was looking at them, if they looked blue I suppose they were. It makes sense that they would be blue, I had a fever, I was soaking wet from head to toe, and it was so cold I could see my breath. Did I mention that I was wearing shorts and flip flops?
We arrived at the park at roughly 2:00 PM and the rain continued to fall. I purchased my wife an umbrella and myself a dry Edo-Wonderland shirt that was at least one size too small, but it was warmer than the shirt I was wearing. We wandered through Edo-Wonderland and found the Ninja shop. They were just as expensive as Chelsea had read, but thankfully we were prepared. We only had three hours in the park, but we got to see two live action ninja shows, feed some Koi, and the boys got to play at a shooting gallery. Believe it or not, this was the highlight of our trip to Japan. Who knew that Japan was such a cold bleak place?
I would say that on the whole this day would sum up my impressions of Japan: a ton of work with little pay off. Not to worry though, we are through with Japan and on to Thailand. I am happy to report that Thailand truly is a land of 1000 smiles, beautiful natural landscapes, and dirt cheap everything. Maybe if Chelsea and I would have had it to do over again we would have skipped Japan, but what’s done is done. My advice to anyone thinking about going to Japan would be to watch The Last Samurai and skip the actual going. Japanese culture for me left much to be desired. It was all of the grumpy without the methodical precision I imagined would permeate Japanese behavior. No I didn’t meet every Japanese person or experience every aspect of their culture, but I experienced enough to know that I don’t want to see more. I suppose this is apart of traveling, some places are awesome and some places feel like you just sat on a cactus. We did see some awesome things like some Red Faced Macaque Monkeys, the ones that enjoy hot springs, and that was awesome, but overall the price of spending time in Japan wasn’t worth the highlights.
Until Next Time,