Rickshaws and Bullet trains and Yakuza — oh my.

*Note: this is one leg of an eight night, nine day in 15 or so different cities around Japan.

On my out of Kyoto was when things got weird and kept getting weirder.

I missed my bullet train, hopped onto the next one – all was well. Then, things took a turn towards crazy town.

Stupid me left my phone (iPhone!!) in the bullet train — yes, that bullet train, those insane Japanese trains that transports people hundreds of miles in a few hours.

Who does that? Me. I do.

Anyway, there are only two bullet train depots in this part of Japan and thankfully today’s destination — Okayama — is one of them. The train I was riding was on its way to the depot so it wasn’t speeding towards middle of Timbuk-nowhere Japan, where lost and found items usually take days maybe weeks to return back to their owners. If my final destination wasn’t Okayama, I would’ve been SOL – shit outta luck.

I raced to the station’s lost and found center, asked politely and calmly if they wouldn’t mind calling the depot… and what do you know. The depot found my phone. Miracle.

The procedure for retrieving lost and found items, is one of two options. 1. wait until lost items are delivered to the lost and found center or 2. have the item mailed.

Um no.

My itinerary, destinations, hotel names, directions, reservation numbers — everything — was in my phone. So I did something Japanese people dare not do: inquire about options.

May I go to the depot and retrieve it? I asked, explaining my situation, how I was traveling with a Rail Pass, I’m only here for one night, all the necessary information is in my phone, please help… which basically caused a chain of panic.

The lost and found people called the bullet train depot to ask if I can physically show up. The bullet train depot people then called their HQ, to ask if a civilian can visit the depot. About an hour later of this back and forth of calling, asking for permission, faxing shit — just kidding about the faxing — I got permission from everyone in the hierarchy to physically show up at the bullet train depot.

Next challenge: transportation. The bullet train depot — there isn’t an official name for where the bullet trains sleep, just 新幹線基地 (Shinkansen kichi), depot — is in the middle of nowhere and no one knew how exactly to get there. The lost and found people, all six of them, hovered over their map and gave me directions all at once. Problem with Japanese streets is they don’t really have names. The directions I got were so vague I felt bad telling them: “Apologies, but I have no idea where the bakery that puts out warm bread four times a day is so there is no way I can make a sharp left there.” Instead I thanked them for their kindness, ran out of the lost and found center straight to the cab area.

With the help of the porter (?) — basically the guy paid to stand at the taxi stand and direct cab traffic — I asked the cab drivers one by one: “Pardon me, do you know where the Shinkanesen depot is?”

About six drivers later, there was this one train otaku (train nerd) who was like YES. ME. ME. ME. and volunteered his services. I hop in the cab knowing it’s about a 20 minute car drive to the depot, and patiently endured his yammering about his earliest memories of the depot. “When I was your age…”

Normally, I am a good listener. I really am. I swear. But this guy was driving about 0.0009839847297342 miles an hour. Seriously, I could’ve rollerbladed faster through a desert. I JUST WANTED MY PHONE BACK.

About a bajillion hours later we finally reach the depot, retrieve my phone, and back to the station we went. After a cab ride that cost about as much as my hotel for the night and a good three hours later, I was finally able to carry on with my day. Note to self: invest in a neck strap. Fanny pack. Crazy glue. Something, any preventive measure, to ever have something like this happen again.

So that’s that and I had to change my course for the day…
God, this is so long. Are you still with me?

Moving on…

My original plan was to head to Naoshima (D.A., if you’re reading this, I didn’t get to go because I missed the train + the iPhone-o-rama) but I ended up in a highly recommended area about 15 minutes away: Kurashiki.

iPhone safely in hand, I hop on the local train, get to my next destination, check into my hotel and head towards Kurashiki’s Bikanchiku (美観地区) — basically where all the tourists go.I get to Kurashiki and spent about two hours wandering with my mouth wide open.

Sensory. Overload. I’m still parsing my thoughts about that area. More on that later. Maybe.

By this time it’s dark out and getting really cold. Super windy but I was hungry. I needed to eat.

I head back towards the hotel (which thankfully, is connected to Kurashiki’s massive station) and the first thing I see and hear is this announcement blasting from Kurashiki station’s mega ad screen on the wall: “暴力団と触れ合いがありましたら、岡山暴力団番号にご連絡ください” (If you or any one else sees suspicious activity from Yakuza, please call Okayama’s Yakuza hotline.)

LOLWUT? Yakuza??

Thinking it was a random PSA some government agency was forced to make, I put that slightly scary thought behind me, and popped into a sushi place recommended by locals. It was brightly lit with families and couples, I mean…what could go wrong right?

Wrong. This is where things really accelerated into crazy town. Like a-bat-flying-over-the-cranberry-patch batshit crazy town.

Some yakuza decide to pop in. There was a group of four eating sushi at the counter four seats over from me. That group of four were apparently not friends with the yakuza that just walked in. And shit hit the fan. It was like a scene you’d only see in movies, with yakuza yelling and fighting and people screaming and running out and what the hell.

Hold on. This is still so surreal, I need to make sure it really happened. Be right back.

Ok. Back. Yes. Indeed. I don’t think I imagined it.

The police show up. A lot of police. And the place finally calms down. I am asked to remain seated as the police wanted to question me and all I could think about was: are you out of your mind?! There is no way in hell I am going to say anything.

So I did the next best thing: only spoke English. The sushi chefs thankfully didn’t bust me out (we were conversing in Japanese before Royal Yakuza rumble), the policemen got irritated because we couldn’t communicate, told me to just get out and that I did. I booked outta there as fast as I could.

What. in. the. flying. fuck.
Seriously.

Just so you know, I contemplated sharing the last part, as I don’t want people unfamiliar with Japan thinking this country is like some Kill Bill Land. Fret not, there are no guns or machine guns or AK-whatevers, or swords, ninja stars or wherever else your imaginations might be taking you. Just old fashioned fists and shouting.

I also stuck around and asked spectators — there was a crowd outside — if they’ve witnessed anything like this before. I chatted with several locals, one who was 76, who said in all his 76 years living here, he had never witnessed anything like this before. So Okayama, as well as Kurashiki, are usually safe. Maybe they were filming a hidden camera show or something tonight.

Now that I’m back in my hotel room, I am a bit amused by how I was able to see something that I would only see in a movie.

I also got to see one of the very, very few bullet train depots in Japan, that most Japanese don’t even know exists.

As much as I want to run and never look back from Kurashiki… and Okayama, I will visit theOhara Museum of Art like planned tomorrow, and write today off as a “weird day”.

 

BONUS:

Rickshaw.

Some blurry shots of the train depot because I had to sneak the shots. Slightly yellowing map the lost and found center people donated to me.  And the number of the Shinkansen depot just in case you happen to you know, lose an item in Okayama and need to pick it up. (Click the images to enlarge)

You’re welcome.

 

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