Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

The Main Attraction hr589

On the first day of my latest trip, I checked in the hotel after I left the shopping mall. The room had a big window looking out on Tokyo Bay. A night view of the jet-black sea and glittering skyscrapers of stylish condominiums was spread on it. Onto the gorgeous glass table, I laid out packs of deli foods that had a sticker telling ‘Half Price’ on each lid that I’d gotten at the grocery store in the mall. My chief delight of a trip is to enjoy drinking in a hotel room. I usually get food outside the hotel and bring a small plastic bottle that I refill with cheap brandy beforehand at home. Compared to the room service, the cost is digits lower in this way although the place to have it is the same. It feels like I order room service of a space as an elegant cocktail lounge by staying at a hotel instead of drinks and foods. Since I bring cheap liquor and snacks, I can enjoy drinking in a quiet, luxurious setting without worries of the bill or the closing time, which is somehow my main purpose of a trip. I was nibbling on half-off seafood looking out the view that I couldn’t possibly see out of my apartment window and wished this moment would last forever. Although I had feared the hotel might be crammed with Chinese tourists because of the Lunar New Year, it wasn’t the case here and I didn’t see many of them. But as the way the world goes, hotels are never quiet enough to sleep in well. I woke up next morning by noises from neighboring rooms without sleeping tight. Quite a few hotels stand together in this area and I walked to the different hotel for lunch. A restaurant in that hotel has a lunch buffet that is reasonably priced and served in a chic atmosphere. About 95 percent of the customers are women and the place is always full. I had no trouble to get a table though, as I had made an online reservation that gave me a discount. I enjoyed as much roasted beef and dessert as I wanted that was too expensive to have in my daily life. Then I moved to a nearby outlet mall. Because my apartment is about to be burst with cheap clothes already, I just strolled around as a window shopper. But when I found a bracelet at $5 that was marked down from $30, I couldn’t help jumping at it. I was staying at the same hotel that night, which meant my favorite drinking time would come again. I got a plastic bottle of wine at $4 and, as I was still more than full from the lunch buffet, some salad and light snacks for dinner at a convenience store and walked back to the hotel. Before going back to my room, I had an important thing to do – using the hotel’s premium member lounge as a nonmember, again. I repeated the extravaganza of the previous day there, having expensive coffee and tea for free as much as I liked. I didn’t know why free drinks tasted especially good, but I knew for sure that I was the one who made the most of the free use of the lounge as this hotel’s off-season promotion. It was early evening and there was still time until I opened my cost efficient bar by myself in my room. So I went to the fitness club of this hotel for the first time. The club requires an outrageously expensive membership fee and normally I just do nothing but ignoring its existence. Only, this off-season promotion stay came with preferential treatment at no extra cost that included the free use of the club. I was curious what an astronomically expensive fitness club looked like. As I walked through a glass corridor leading up to the club, I saw the whole new world unfold before my eyes. I had cherished drinking in a hotel room as the main attraction of a trip for years till then. Yet the experience I was about to have in this fitness club overturned and changed everything so easily…

Leave a comment »

Free Foods and Drinks hr588

The bullet train ran through several long tunnels in the mountains and carried me out of snow. In less than twenty minutes, I was in a different, snow-free world where the sun was shining and the blue sky spread. I put on my makeup and had rice balls that I’d gotten back at the station. By then, my worry about this trip had dwindled away and I began to feel thrilled. On the other hand, my poor partner who accompanied me on this trip had been suffering from atopic eczema and was sitting next to me nervously, as his body was itchy. We arrived at Tokyo Station where we walked through an underground passage that was busy and crowded with people and transferred to the local train. As this line runs along Tokyo Bay, the ocean can be seen out of the train window. It was so refreshing to see a stretch of the horizon over the sea for me who live surrounded by mountains. I thought I finally got my breath. The hotel I’d booked was close to the train station. I got in there but wasn’t allowed to check in until 7 p.m. since I chose the bargain rate for the room. I went straight ahead to the top floor lounge to enjoy the afternoon tea for which I had collected points diligently for two years to exchange to a fifty dollars off coupon. Although a small usual disappointment was alongside, which there was a family with a noisy child even in a luxury lounge like that, I was in seventh heaven looking out the magnificent twilight view of Tokyo Bay. And it was practically free because I paid only a fraction of money thanks to the coupon. Then I moved to another lounge that was exclusively for the hotel’s premium member. This bargain rate stay came with preferential treatment at no extra cost as their off-season promotion and I was entitled to use this lounge. It had a single-serve coffee machine and expensive soft drinks. I had two cups of freshly dripped specialty coffee, two cups of specialty tea and a bottled sparkling water along with elegant cookies that the receptionist had brought to me. And everything was free! I wondered why something complimentary was always gone to my stomach easily and endlessly. As it was still too early for my check-in time, I was headed for a shopping mall near the hotel. When I was walking on the broad sidewalk beside a modern convention center and looking ahead the twilight skyline of tall buildings, I somewhat missed urban life. I stepped in the gigantic shopping mall and looked around the grocery floor for something to eat in the hotel room. The floor had ten times as large space as a grocery store of my town and had all kinds of deli foods, salad and bread. I imagined how much fun it would be if I shopped daily at a place like this. Adjacent to the mall was Costco. A lot of kinds of free samples were being given out there, such as beefsteak, salmon, sushi rolls, and croissant. I became full enough with those. My partner took free samples and had them too, which was odd. He’s usually a little lofty and conceited and doesn’t like to get free samples. But this time, he willingly joined the line for a sample, took it, swallowed, and eagerly repeated it over and over. I observed his strange behavior thinking that he must have been so much hungry, or the samples must have tasted so good, or his atopy must have been bad enough to affect his brain. After our free sample jamboree, I dropped by the food court of Costco. The place to eat was dirty and looked like a visitors’ room of a prison. But considering the incredible size of the hot dog and the cup of soda, they were virtually free because their prices were incredibly low. I gobbled them and walked back to the hotel. The first day of my trip ended this way, filled with freebies and savings…

Leave a comment »

The Beginning of A Winter Trip hr587

The mountainous region where I live is in the depth of winter and it snows day after day. Now that the snow covering the ground has accumulated over my own height, I was having a sense of claustrophobia. That’s a cue for my annual three-day trip to the Tokyo metropolitan area that doesn’t have much snow. I set about arranging this year’s trip online. I successfully booked the room in a hotel of the Japanese luxury chain at a greatly economical rate by making the best use of coupons and their off-season promotion. The stay would come with preferential treatment at no extra cost as part of the promotion. To get to the Tokyo metropolitan area, I need to ride the bullet train that is expensive. But I got a 35% discount for the ticket by reserving early in advance. I was all set to get out of snow. Although it had snowed every day, it rained on that particular day when I set off on a trip in the morning. Rain is more troublesome than snow. I would take a local bus to the bullet train station. The bus stop is near my apartment but it has neither a cubicle nor a roof. When it snows, I can pat off the snow that comes onto my clothes while I’m walking to the bus stop and waiting there. But in the rain, my one hand is occupied with an umbrella as I carry all the bags, which would cause awkward walking that inevitably wets me. I would freeze while I’m waiting for the bus. I bore an unexpected expense and called a cab. The dispatcher told me it would take long to come to pick me up due to high demand. Since I had the bullet train to catch, I gave in to my umbrella and walked toward the bus stop in the rain. I felt miserable while I was waiting for the bus with many bags around me drenching. Out of the bus window, I saw snow plains beneath which were parks, rice paddies and sidewalks. The road was plowed, but the snow was pushed off to a long, tall snow wall alongside. The lengthy massive white wall was taller than the bus and it looked almost like a snow-made tunnel. I started to feel claustrophobia again. I cheered myself up by thinking I was soon in the snow-free city. I made a wish for a nice trip upon the closest mountain that had turned completely white. On the platform for the bullet train at the station, I found many Chinese families and tourists. That suddenly reminded me about the Lunar New Year during which Chinese people took vacation and traveled. The hotel I was staying at might be crowded with Chinese tourists as well. I couldn’t believe why I was so careless that I’d forgotten about Chinese New Year. Among the gleeful Chinese tourists, I stood waiting for the train with a long face. Rain and the Lunar New Year seems more like a bad omen, and now I became unsure as to whether or not this trip was the right move…

Leave a comment »

A Train Ride in Japan hr585

My main means of transportation is the train. As manners and common sense vary in countries, I introduce here what a train ride in Japan is like. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, it’s just atrocious especially during the rush hours. I had had a lot of trouble when I lived in the area. It’s almost impossible to get a ride since both the train and the platform are packed with people. The train is full, which means in Japan’s case that you can’t move as you’re pressed firmly against other passengers’ bodies around you. Because I’m short and feel claustrophobia only in a few minutes, I have to pass several trains to wait for a less crowded one. That results in a long, inefficient travel although the trains run every ten minutes or less. As the night deepens, the smell of alcohol fills the train car that has more drunken businessmen, some of whom are befuddled. It used to be common that men openly spread and read porn magazines and tabloids in the car, but thankfully they are replaced by smartphones now. There are women-only cars that men aren’t allowed to get in during the rush hours. Too many cases of being groped or molested in a crowded train car made railroad companies invent this crazy sexism solution. I myself can’t count how many times I was touched or saw a man expose himself in the train. When I once squeezed myself into a packed car on my way to school, I barely got my body inside the car but my bag couldn’t. The door closed on the handles of my bag and left the bag outside. I rode for three minutes with my bag dangling outside the train, swinging violently. In daytime, the murderous congestion subsides. Instead, enters a group of housewives with large strollers that block aisles. They ignore their children who are crying and shrieking. Some passengers eat snacks, rice balls or sandwiches in the train. Some eat cup noodles or lunch in a box called bento. Even drinking alcoholic beverages is okay. But, people dart an angry look at someone who is putting on makeup. One of major complains to railroad companies is making up in the train. I don’t have the slightest idea what that means. It’s acceptable no matter how drunken or how loud you are inside the train, but not that you’re putting up makeup. I heard on the radio show that an elderly woman complained about a young lady who was putting on mascara in the train. Her point was she couldn’t allow a woman to turn up the whites of her eyes in public. It doesn’t make sense and to me, it sounds clear sexism. I almost always put on makeup on the train for time efficiency and wage a quiet battle against other passengers’ angry glances. With good or bad manners aside, trains in Japan are generally safe and a murder or a robbery hardly happens. A pickpocket steals a wallet from a drunken passenger who has fallen asleep, or a drunk beats a conductor, that’s the maximum. If you have carelessly left your belongings in the train, they’re found and delivered to a station in most cases. It may be too extravagant to complain of Japan’s trains that are well maintained, so clean, and graffiti-free. While it’s sometimes uncomfortable to share a ride with people whose likes and dislikes are pretty different from mine, it’d be better to relish the difference and be surprised by it. That may help me grow leniency. Besides, there’s no such thing as the world going round solely by my own rules after all…

Leave a comment »

Some Remain, Others Disappear hr582

Once a year in autumn, a road race of classic cars is held in Japan. The race starts in Tokyo, runs through five prefectures in four days and finishes back in Tokyo. It stops for the night at a certain checkpoint during the long journey and one of the checkpoints is a hotel in a small town where I live. On its way there, it passes through the desolate main street of my town. I look forward to this event and go out to see it every year. More than one hundred beautiful classic cars like Fiat, Bugatti and Alfa Romeo, some of which are about ninety years old, run past right in front of my eyes one after another on a narrow street almost within my reach. I can also get to spot a few Japanese former Formula One drivers and celebrities who participate in as proud owners of the cars. The promoter hands out small flags for this event to spectators along the street. They wave the flags to the cars and the drivers wave back. This year, I left my apartment a little early for the race to stroll around the main section of my town where I hardly visit. When I shop or eat, I usually travel to the city far from my town that is too small and forlorn to hang out. I walked around the center of the town for the first time in a year and found it more desolate. A small grocery store I have shopped for several times had been out of business. A bookstore in front of the train station was closed along with a restaurant across it. There was no sign of any new tenant at those locations. More and more stores are gone, as a small population of my town is getting even smaller every year. I sat on a bench at the best spot to see the race along the main street that also had more shuttered shops than before. I was waiting for the cars to come while looking through a race brochure with a flag in my hand, both of which I’d gotten at the town’s empty tourist information office. As it was about the time the cars were scheduled to pass, I was prepared with my smartphone camera. But not a single car appeared. I waited more and there were still no cars. And I noticed there were no spectators either. I made sure the date and the time in the brochure again, and they were correct. Since an unpredictable incident can happen in the race and a delay sometimes occurs, I waited patiently. No cars and no people showed up. It was getting dark and cold. I went back to the info office and asked about the race. The clerk said, “Hasn’t it come yet? It should be here, I think.” Because she sounded she knew nothing about the race, I assured that her info was false, which meant, the race shouldn’t be here. I must have gotten the right time, but the wrong place. I left the main street and hurried toward the checkpoint where the cars would eventually arrive. On the way, I started smelling a strong odor of exhaust that came from nothing but classic cars in these days. The race must have been near. I hurried on, and finally saw a classic car turning the intersection with an explosive engine noise at the bottom of a steep slope toward the checkpoint. The race did come to my town but used a different route. It had dropped down the main street as its route this year and the info office didn’t know that. With only few spectators even along the main street every year, the new route was outside the town center and there were literally no spectators. I managed to see the last one-third cars in the dark while I missed the most part of the race, especially fast cars. Like this, my town is gradually declining with fewer people, fewer shops and less information. I will watch the whole race next year near the checkpoint not along the main street. Unless the race excludes my town from the route altogether, that is…

Leave a comment »