We were feeling good getting off the bus in Tokyo: we had directions from our stop to the hotel, and once we checked in and dropped off our suitcases and backpacks, the real meat of our trip could begin. But when we consulted our directions, we found that they made absolutely no sense. We calmly, then frantically, looked around for any of the landmarks mentioned in any of the first few steps before we realized that we got off at the wrong stop.
Still, not too bad. Japan is a tech mecca. All that I have to do is find an open Wifi hotspot and look up directions on Google Maps. We can't be that far off.
Only there wasn't a Wifi connection to be found. I don't mean that I couldn't find an open hotspot; I mean that I couldn't find a single connection, at all. (In fact, they were so sparse that I eventually stopped checking even out of curiosity by the second day.)
All is not lost. Maybe not everyone speaks English, but most have to take it at some point here. Between my broken Japanese and someone else's broken English, we can hobble together some new directions.
The businesses around us were mostly restaurants and cafés, so I decided to try the bank. English is the language of business, so this was my best chance, especially if they had international clients. Jess stayed outside with our baggage, as she rightfully brought up that it would be best not to walk into a bank with a bunch of bags filled with God-knows-what.
I walked up to the teller and said, "Juu yon ni juu Nihonbashi odenmacho wa doko desu ka?" [Where is 14-20 Nihonbashi odenmacho?] I thought that asking about the address of our hotel would be more effective than asking where our hotel was. I was wrong.
"Sore wa nan desu ka?" [What is that?]
"Sumimasen. Watashi no hoteru desu. APA Hoteru Kodenmacho-ekimae," [Sorry. It's my hotel. APA Hotel Kodenmacho Station,] I said as I unfolded my sheet of paper and pointed at the original directions.
She then began giving what I'm sure were quite detailed directions. Unfortunately, I had to interrupt her. "Sumimasen. Wakarimasen. Nihongo o ikute hanashimasen." [I'm sorry. I don't understand. I don't speak Japanese well.]
She stared at me for a moment that seemed like an eternity, smiling widely. She began to speak again, this time slowly and using noticeably simpler grammar. I could understand bits and pieces, but not enough to mentally paste into a coherent thought. "Wakarimasen. Sumimasen." [I don't understand. I'm sorry.]
"Chotto matte kudasai." [Please wait a moment.]
The teller walked out of sight for few minutes, then a security guard came walking out. Expecting to be escorted out of the bank, I was relieved when he simply said, in English, "Lost?"
"Hai. Um, yes." [Yes. Ano hai.]
I showed him the address on the paper I had been nervously folding and crumpling.
He walked me outside of the bank, then pointed left, then made a motion for me to turn left at the corner. He then pulled out and unfolded a rather large map, then refolded it so only the pertinent sections were visible.
He repeatedly pointed to a specific spot, circled it with his fingers, then pointed at the ground saying, "Koko desu. Here."
I nodded that I understood. "Hai."
Then he pointed at another spot and said, "Hotel." He then traced the path we needed to walk.
I nodded again, pulled out my iPhone and took a picture. "Doumo arigatou gozaimasu!" [Thank you very much!]
I triumphantly returned to my wife, explained that I knew exactly where we were going, then led her to the corner of the bank and explained the general path. We didn't go two blocks before something was wrong.
Jess said, "Oh, look there's a bridge. Where's that on the map?"
"Not on our path."
"That's not good."
We walked back to the starting corner and tried to figure out where we had messed up. We explored the surrounding streets a little, dragging our luggage along the way. No matter how we looked at it, the directions and our surroundings just simply did not mesh with the map.
It was like there was an incredible void in my stomach that felt like it would never be filled again. Complete, hopeless vacuity. Standing on the corner in Tokyo, I realized that I had no idea how to get to where we needed to be, even with directions and a map. I wasn't even sure if we knew where we were starting from.
I had never been this lost.
Except, I probably had. My family traveled a fair bit when I was growing up, and there were probably times that we had taken some wrong turns on a road trip or found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, separated from our group in a foreign country. (That's not even to mention mission trips to Central and South American.) I had probably been lost like this before, but I never felt it. Others were in charge; others were making the plans; and others were responsible for getting us to where we were going.
We only had each other to rely on here. It was up to us to figure it out.
"We know this corner. Let's keep walking past the bridge for a few blocks and see if anything starts to make sense. If we don't turn off this road, we can always come back to this corner and try again."
Jess agreed, so we began to walk. After about five minutes, the map still didn't make sense. Just as I was about to revisit the idea that maybe the guard had pulled out the wrong map, something clicked. I finally understood: we were starting from the wrong triangular area.
After about three hours of dragging our luggage around Tokyo, looking more out of place than...well, a ginger dragging luggage around Tokyo, we found our hotel. However, our room would not be ready for another few hours, and we understood well enough to know they didn't want us to wait in their small lobby. Thankfully, they didn't seem to mind checking our bags for us so we could continue to "explore" Tokyo while we waited.
After locating some easily spotted landmarks, we headed back to a park that Jess had spied on our way. Nothing noteworthy happened there or at the small Buddhist temple across from it, but we did take some pictures.
It had taken some effort to find, but Kodenmacho quickly became our home in Tokyo.