It was nearly Saturday midnight and the cold Tokyo wind was beginning to send chills down my spine.
Tokyo’s night-dwellers, most of them wearing dark suits, others in outlandish clothes in varying shades of neon colors, were passing by and I, an outsider in this bustling and noisy city, had nowhere to go.
It was my fourth night in central Tokyo and against my better judgement, without any guide, I decided to explore its every nook and cranny, getting helplessly lost in the process.
Glancing at my faded Tokyo train and railway map, I could hardly read the stations and the railway lines I need to take to get myself back to Ariake Bay. I was shaking in panic.
Earlier in the day, I trooped to Ueno area from my hotel in Ariake near the bay area, to make a must-do pasalubong shopping for all friends and relatives who demanded gifts.
My 11-year old nephew, who’s been nagging me for a play station portable (PSP) even warned me not to go back to Manila without any gift at hand and I didn’t want to him.
Ueno, one of the more famous destinations in Central Tokyo is home to great bargains for shoes, clothes, food and almost everything you will need so a visit in this town was a top priority for my pasalubong campaign. It is also convenient because it’s just a station away from the electronic town of Akihabara ( a must-see destination for shoppers wanting that big discounts for I-pods, phones,laptops and other high tech and latest gadgets).
Unfortunately, it seemed that Tokyo was so high-tech for me that its highly complicated train and railway system left me dazed and confused during my first moments of solo exploration.
I have spent a good hour loitering around the Shimbashi station of the JR East line, but still could not find my way towards the connecting Yurikamome train that would take me back to Ariake.
And though I made attempts of ‘dokoni imaska Yurikamome’ to Japanese passersby, nobody stopped to give me detailed directions on where to go so I just decided to just explore Shimbashi.
Shimbashi is a business district and the newer skyscrapers are beginning to change the landscape of this busy area. Walking around, you would notice large neon signs for money exchange (largely because this is a transfer point of the major transport systems in Tokyo and because of the rich population of foreign visitors).
Skipping dinner for shopping, I also could not stop staring at the fancy restaurants around Shimbashi, some of them offering ramen and tsukumen at 1,400 yen (around P600) a cup.
But with my preference for raw fish, the sight of endless sushi houses in Shimbashi was truly agonizing especially for someone working on a dangerously limited budget.
Shimbashi is also 10 minutes near the shopping districts of Ginza and Shiodome so the idea of continuing my pasalubong hunting was tempting.
But with a measly 1,000 yen inside my pockets and a few dollars left after my earlier bargain-hunting, shopping was definitely no longer an option and I had to contend with just looking through the windows of fancy shops in the district.
As the minutes passed by, my mind was beginning to ponder on the possibility of missing all the trains and being forced to sleep on the cold pavement of Tokyo’s streets.
Under normal circumstances, I would not panic during such episodes, but my childhood has left me scarred and well-aware of the perils of losing my directions.
As a curious 5 year-old, I followed my sisters on their way to their grade school in the northern portion of Binondo, Manila one morning of 1987. It would be three weeks after that I would next see them.
Losing track of my sisters, I ended up being taken cared of by a rich Chinese family at the opposite side of Binondo.
While that family took good care of me, the thought of losing my family forever terrorized me so much that I would wake up in the middle of the night and cry while looking out the window of my adoptive family’s house. I would also refuse to eat with the company of the people I cannot understand at all (I would later realize that they were speaking in Mandarin). My parents found me after three weeks with the help of relentless announcements in newspapers and television programs.
I returned to my old life and family but I was never the same. Growing up, I would always follow map directions to a T.
But this time was obviously an exception.
With very few precious time left before the Yurikamome line stops its operation, I summoned all my strength and courage to again ask Japanese strangers for directions on how to get to the Yurikamome line that would take me back to Ariake bay.
I know that if I don’t make it in time, I would be definitely be sleeping in the hard, cold streets of Shimbashi. Or worse, the roving patrolmen of the Japanese police may invite me for sake at the nearest police station.
My stomach already growling and my mind filled with the various doomsday scenarios, I hesitantly approached a woman sitting at the nearest bench at the JR station.
With strain clearly etched on my face, I asked her one last time for directions and to my luck, she quickly gathered bag and walked me through the confusing pathways around the station to the front gate of the Yurikamome line in Shimbashi.
And with a small smile, the lady said ”oyasuminasai” (good night) to me. I quickly boarded the last train and silently expressed my gratitude to her. I was sure that she was an angel in disguise out to save me from misery.
While my evening was not exactly good ( it was filled with misadventures as a matter of fact), I gave her a grateful bow and repeated the greeting because if not for her, I would have been totally lost in the streets of Tokyo and fail to find my way back home.