The Old Streetcar Line

I follow a lot of blogs centered around life in Japan. A handful of these are Japanese-language blogs, which serve as virtual picture books, and the rest are written in English by  people seeking to practice their writing skills. Through one of these delightful blogs, I learned of the lone survivor of Tokyo's once-extensive streetcar system. The surviving section is called the Toden-Arakawa line and it consists of 30 stations, all located north of Tokyo in a (relatively speaking) rural area (...think small suburbia rather than out in the country). The Toden-Arakawa line was almost shut down when the rest of the streetcar system closed in the 60's, but the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods save its life.

Last Tuesday, I left the Cube around 8am (via metro) to make my way to one of the boarding stops of the T-A line. I disembarked the metro at the appropriate exit and looked around for a sign pointing to the streetcar platform...or anything remotely related to streetcars. Being outside of the Tokyo bubble, I couldn't find anyone comfortable enough with foreigners to look at the streetcar picture pulled up on my cell...which was a shame as it was a cartoon streetcar and it was super kawaii. I chose it to appeal to Japanese tastes but no one would even look at it. (Sad expat face.) So, with no alternative, I walked approximately 57 miles around the little neighborhood until I finally spotted the platform and jumped onboard the streetcar.

I disembarked at most of the stations along the route and visited all (like...literally almost all) of the shops tucked into the side streets of these quiet little 'hoods.

...not much help

Bikes are the preferred mode of transportation out in the 'burbs.

It was a bit surreal to experience such rustic neighborhoods just 30 minutes outside of Tokyo. Boz and I have traveled around Japan extensively enough to know Tokyo is just one version of Japanese life...but we have been several hours away during each of our rural adventures. It was just a bit eye-opening to realize how differently people live right next door to the bright lights of the city. As I later reported to Boz, I dealt with my discomfort by buying lots of things in an effort to stimulate their economy! (Happy expat face.)

Boz's response "Please don't elaborate, Ab."

That's probably my favorite Boz-response... to which I say : No Problemo. I don't really have additional info anyway as I never keep my receipts...because all the non-numerical details are in, like...who cares?...right? I feel like there's no point in keeping track of your expenditures if you can't decipher exactly what they were for.

(That was a little financial planning 101 for my readers. You're welcome.)

Anyway, if you have plans to visit Japan on an incredibly long vacation which allows you time to wander aimlessly through the burbs outside of Tokyo, I have three public service announcements to help prepare you for the adventure:

#1.  There is a temple at the Koshinzuka stop (maybe about 1/3rd of the way through the route) called Kogan-Ji. Right outside the temple, you will find the Togenuki Jizo statue, which depicts a Buddhist god of healing. The statue is about 4 feet tall and it stands on a platform on the 'front lawn' of the temple. (It is definitely not called the front lawn. And on that note...on the off-chance this doesn't go without saying: don't use any of the terms you find on RV if you visit Japan.)

As I later learned, visitors pour water over the statue, polish a little spot with a hand towel, and then hold the towel against any ailing body parts to promote healing. I was completely unaware of this statue, much less this custom, before Tuesday, but when an older gentleman (80ish) offered me a long-handled ladle and gestured for me to pour water, I obliged. And then, of course, he handed me a little cloth and gestured for me to rub the statue, which I misunderstood to mean "Clean the statue", so I meticulously scrubbed the whole damn thing...head to toe, front and back...and then handed the rag back. He took the rag but didn't move...just stood there staring blankly at I bowed deeply and left.

Lesson: If you visit Togenuki Jizo, just wipe the statue in one quick swipe and then hold the towel over your problematic body parts (within reason, I presume).

Moving on...

#2.  I continued on my way and a few stations later found a little shop called Kobe which sells decorative statues, jewelry and jewelry boxes, scarves, etc.

Kobe had a sign in English out front, boasting about the exciting "straight from Kobe" wares to be discovered inside. I entered and a super sweet (30ish) saleswoman came to enthusiastically assist all salespeople do for all customers in Japan. Again, being in the burbs, the shop-owners aren't really prepared to deal with people whose Japanese is limited to greetings and a few Swallows chants, so she chattered away in Japanese...energetically inserting the word 'Kobe' into every other sentence. Because my brain seemingly short-circuits in these types of situations, I got nervous and felt like I had to respond in SOME way, so I just nodded and smiled and said 'beef?'. Just about every single person in Japan (especially Kobe) knows the word 'beef' in English, so she immediately gave me a totally confused look, glanced around her store (probably, and justifiably, thinking "No, freak. Does it look like we sell beef in the scarf shop?") and walked away.

In my defense, I didn't actually think they sold beef. I only said that because it's the first thing that comes to mind when I hear "Kobe". Apparently my subconscious thought we were playing a word-association game. If it weren't for my subconscious...and my inability to learn new languages...and my fairly substantial lack of interpersonal skills...I would be doing so much better over here. But no one's perfect.

Lesson: Just smile and nod at the salespeople (and buy something...for the economy!).

#3. If you stop at something that looks like this:

...and you photograph it and smile at the shop-owner, he is going to offer you a taste test. If this happens to you...seriously...just run away. Those are all various types of dried, eyeballs-on, LONG (like some were 4 inches long!!) dried fish. Gah. I just got goosebumps at the memory. I had to eat a HANDFUL of these things. That's all I can type...lest I dry heave in the coffee shop. One of my cooking instructors claims these are delicious because they are salty. That argument obviously has so many holes, it's not even worth discussing. I would eat my plastic salt shaker before I would eat these things again.

So, there you have it: a fairly worthless guide to the Toden-Arakawa line. But at least you won't make these exact three mistakes. I do recommend the route as it provides a day full of off-the-beaten-path adventures and all the townspeople are so talkative and welcoming. The train passengers are 1,000 times livelier than the Tokyo Metro passengers (because they're all retired and therefore not heading to work) and the scenes along the way are captivating.