Mie to Kyoto - Disaster Strikes!!!

April 17, 2007
Mood: Horribly Vulnerable, Stupid, and Depressed!!
(Ayako is a pseudonym given out of respect for this person's identity)

So I had had a wet and long day the day before. I arrived at Peter's house and noticed my bag was open, but was too tired to think about how, why, or the consequences. We spent a late night talking and we woke up early the next morning so he could get to work.

Ultimately I ended up staying after he left because his friend and neighbor came by and we ended up talking for another hour. Just as I was really getting ready to go, Peter came back from class and we said goodbye. I biked around the corner to get some breakfast and went into shock when I looked in my bag. My wallet was GONE!!! And not just my wallet! I had JUST emptied the ENTIRETY of my savings from one local bank account so I could transfer it to another international bank account. I had been keeping my eye out for an international bank the day before but I never saw one, so I had left ALL my money in my wallet. I never thought about safety because Japan is so safe. My savings for this entire trip, $1600 payment for my credit cards, the credit cards themselves, my Japanese ID, my Japanese and Massachusetts drivers licenses, the US dollars I had left over from my recent trip, my train credit card, my Japanese and US ATM cards - EVERYTHING! Everything was gone!!!! I totally flipped out.

I retraced my steps from the train station. I searched through all my bags back at Peter's house. I search Peter's house. I went back and asked the train station people. I went to the police and filed a report. I retraced my steps from the onsen. I searched the onsen, and reported the loss/theft there. Nothing. Holy FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It looked like someone knicked it. Most Japanese who find something like a wallet wouldn't even touch it. But if they did pick it up, they would invariably turn it into the police. Since it hadn't been turned in, and was not left on the ground anywhere, I thought it was more likely stolen by the 0.001% of Japanese people who would do such a thing.

I had done everything I could do. The day before, my Kyoto host told me her grandmother was still visiting, so I had to ask another person to help. She really pulled some strings to find me a place, and there was just nothing else I could do in this shitty city to find my wallet. If it was stolen, it would never be found. If it was lost and found by a dishonest person, it would never be found. If it was lost and found by an honest person, I hoped they would be smart enough to turn it into the police. But none of those possibilities involved any further action by me. It was time to get out of this city. I had a host waiting for me, and if I fucked it up I might not even have a place to stay that night.

I had spent far too long looking for my wallet, and there was no way I could bike over the mountains to Kyoto in time to stay with my Kyoto host. I didn't have a single yen to my name. I tried hitch-hiking, but only one person pulled over. I'm not sure what she wanted because she said she lived in that city and wasn't willing to drive me very far. But she kept asking "what if no one stops?" as if I had some fantastic answer for her... Eventually she wanted to give me her mobile number, but I told her I really didn't want it. I had enough people I could contact if I literally couldn't even get out of that city. After more than an hour hitching with no luck I decided to bike to the nearest train station and just try my luck at telling them I had lost my wallet but NEEDED to get on the train. I struck a bit of luck when I arrived at the next station and found that it was an unmanned station. Some stations in the countryside are totally open. You are supposed to tell the people at your arrival station where you got on, and they know how much to charge you to get out of the gates. I packed my bike as compactly as I could and got on the first train that came. I took it to the end of the line and transferred to another line going towards Kyoto. The train that stopped had a ticket collector, but since that transfer station had ticket gates, he assumed everyone getting on had paid to get in the station. It was a long, stressful ride through the mountains. Under different circumstances this would have been one of the cutest train rides I'd taken in Japan. The little 2-car local train was really old, and beat up. It went slowly. About 15-20 km/h at many points. I curled around mountains and popped in and out of hills. The sun went down shortly and it was practically empty. Not a popular line. I was really worried the man would ask me for my ticket, or at the end of the line I would have to give him my ticket to exit the train. At all the stops in between people were asked for their tickets before they could even get off the train! I never made eye-contact.

We arrived at the end of the line, and thankfully all the doors opened. I got off as far away from the ticket collector as possible. I figured out which platform to transfer to and made my way over to a waiting train. It was an express city train. It was unlikely I'd have to deal with any more ticket collectors until my destination station. Whew! I got on the express train and sat back in its cushioned seats while hanging my bike in the wheelchair area. I arrived in the city next to Kyoto and made yet another transfer. I was giddy I had come so far for free, but stressed about what would happen if/when I got caught. I wasn't so scared of the consequences, as much as the embarrassment in having to explain my pathetic story to anyone. Two stops later the limited express train I got on was pulling into Kyoto station. I made my last transfer to the Kyoto subway line and called my host, Hiro, and made plans to meet him and the girl who had helped find him, Ayako. I arrived at the right station and hoped to just pass behind someone else, but my bike and bags were too wide to fit out the gates. I knew this, so I re-adjusted them on the platform. Of course by the time I had them sorted, all the passengers were gone. I was really worried about walking out past the un-gated guard booth without any other people to distract him. I got downstairs and saw my opportunity. The guard was talking to an old lady, and I just walked straight out without looking at him. Great! I had made it to Kyoto in 2 hours even though I had no money!

I connected with my new friends, Hiro and Ayako, and they were kind enough to treat me to a delicious dinner of gyoza and various Japanese dishes. This was the beginning of many free meals and hospitable encounters I would have in Kyoto. Hiro was really talkative, and very interesting. He was the first Japanese I've met who really enjoyed philosophizing. We had a long conversation about Europe, and all sorts of things before Ayako pointed out how late it was. Ayako had kept pretty quiet during dinner so I suspected she was a typical Japanese girl. She is a girl who wears kimono everyday. To her, kimono are just clothes. She is extremely involved in the practice of tea ceremonies, and almost all things quintessentially"Kyoto". Kyoto is the center of traditional Japanese culture. It is where you see real geisha and their maiko apprentices. It has more temples and shrines than any other place in Japan, and it is where all Japanese go to feel nostalgia for old Japan. When I saw Ayako in her kimono I thought she was striking. No young people wore kimono where I lived near Tokyo. The only time most girls wear kimono is on "Coming of Age Day", when they are 20 years old. Beyond that, Japan has it's own modern fashions that are pretty similar to western fashions. But Ayako wears kimono everyday (unless it's really rainy). She normally meets couchsurfers, but never hosts. She wanted to talk to me about my travels. She is planning a project that she hopes will take her around the world while sharing her culture, and she wanted to hear my advice.

Hiro and I in his student housing

I learned most of this after dinner when we walked back to Hiro's place, and chatted about philosophy, travel, and couchsurfing. Ayako soon left, and Hiro and I stayed up until about 2am talking about travel and looking at his amazing pictures of his last trip across central Asia! He said he had some work to do for school, so he continued to stay up, but I went to sleep on the floor of his small student room.


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