Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tokyo, Small Cars, Railway Passes, and the Capsule Hotel

In Japan, they have these smaller cars that have yellow license plates on them. They wouldn't be legal in the United States, but they're ok on the streets in Japan. They are called "kei cars", and are limited to 660 cc engines. Since my friend Philip pointed them out to me, I have been noticing them more and more.  There are really a lot of them and they make up a pretty high proportion of the cars on the road.

I arrived in Tokyo yesterday coming in on the bullet train from Fukuoka. The bullet train was a great experience and I enjoyed crossing Japan with it. I have a Japan Rail pass that allows me to take any JR train for free, but not all trains are JR trains. Some are private, and some are public but not part of JR. But I do get to take shinkansen, or bullet trains, except for the highest echelon of them, for some reason. But the ones I can take are about the same as the supposedly better ones, so I don't see why the higher status ones are not included.

The subways in each city are not included in the JR Pass, but there are regional JR trains that parallel the subways in many cases. Usually they have less stops, but they are free with my pass. All I have to do is show my pass, and I get to pass through a special manned gate at the train station. You can only get the JR Pass from outside the country, so I ordered it when I was in Korea, and got the voucher for it by FedEx at the hostel in Busan. Then, when I got to Japan, I had to exchange the voucher for the pass at the train station, and select the starting date. I also reserved tickets on the bullet train from Fukuoka to Osaka, then Osaka to Tokyo. There was only a fourteen minute layover in Osaka, so I was a bit worried about catching the next train (especially with the language barrier), but it was not a problem. I even used my JR Pass today just to get past the train gates so I could use the bathroom which was in the ticketed area. Just another perk.

Many large cities in Japan have subway systems that are separate from JR Rail. So they have subway cards you can buy and recharge with money as needed. You just swipe them at the turnstile, and it charges you the fare. In Fukuoka, the card was called Hayakaken. I got one of those cards, but when I left, I still had about ten bucks left on it. Then I got to Tokyo, and their card is called Pasmo, so I got one of those. But I didn't realize that the cards are interchangeable within both cities' subway systems (and those of many other Japanese cities), so I could have used my Hayakaken card in Tokyo. Oh, well, I can use both,  and probably in other cities as well. And I have heard they also work for buses and JR Rail, and even to make purchases in stores. But the funny thing is that I haven't even used the Tokyo subway yet, I've just been able to use the JR regional trains for free with my pass. I probably will ride the subway at some point, though.

I'm staying at a capsule hotel in Tokyo, which is a hotel that has a small chamber that you can sleep in. I have no problem with the small space (it's about two cubic meters, 1 X 1 X 2), but it is the convoluted rules that are more difficult. It is for men only, no tattoos are allowed, and you wear a robe that they assign to you. They kept my large backpack behind the front desk.  When I checked in, I had to put my shoes in a shoe locker, and it locks with a key that you can take away from the locker. Then I had to turn in that key to the front desk to get the key to my personal effects locker, which is not very big at all. The personal effects locker has the same number as the cubicle I sleep in. There is no door to the cubicle, only a bamboo mat that covers the front of it.

So every time I want to leave, I have to go to the front desk, turn in my locker key and get my shoe locker key so I can get my shoes. And there is almost always a slow-moving line at the front desk. Also, every time I want to get something out of my backpack, I have to get it from behind the front desk, and they are not very tolerant of me unpacking it in the lobby to get whatever it is I need. And I have to plan out my backpack retrieval adventure, so I can get things I need when I need them. It's kind of a pain in the ass. And whenever you leave, you are not supposed to leave anything in your cubicle, though I have seen some people leave items in there. But I take all my stuff and stuff it in the locker, then go beg for my shoes so I can leave. I suppose I could just take off barefoot, but that would probably really freak them out, and I don't really relish walking barefoot on the streets of Tokyo.

There is an outlet, a light, and a radio and TV in the cubicle. The wifi in the cube is weak and sporadic but I get a data signal in there. There is a hot spring bath, or onsen (as they are called in Japan) that comes with the capsule hotel (another plus...it's about $17 a night for the cubicle, which includes unlimited use of the hot bath and sauna), and if they see a tattoo while you are bathing naked, you could get kicked out. Everybody bathes naked in a communal fashion. This is the first one I have seen that has women walking around in the nude men area. Not women bathers, but employees of the establishment who are fully clothed; I'm not sure exactly what they do.  Some of them give massages, I think, because there are signs for massage around the place.  Some of them might clean up the place. I don't really know.


  1. Mostly clean, you can flush the paper down the toilets, unlike in some Asian countries. Many places to stay for the night have special bathroom slippers for you to wear. Some places have the squat toilets, but the ones I have seen are modern flush toilets and not just a hole in the ground.