I recently spent a few weeks in Tokyo. The Mobile Team at Automattic had a meetup there and so I took the chance to explore a bit on my own before everyone else arrived.
Once I had arrived in Tokyo itself I made a horrible realization: ATM’s don’t take MasterCard. Or at least none of the ones within a 4 block radius of that train station did. It was only later I learned that VISA is the way to go when traveling in Japan, but that you should always carry cash. So I found myself stranded at a smaller train station in Tokyo in the middle of the night wandering up and down streets with my luggage in the pouring rain, trying to find an ATM that would work.
Eventually I managed to hail a cab that claimed to take my credit card. The next problem was the address, since I was going to an Airbnb home: in Japan streets usually don’t have names, and houses rarely have numbers.
Hand gestures, broken english, and off we went.
Upon arrival the card failed to work. In fact all my four mastercards failed to work. Until I tried swiping the card in the opposite direction.
Much rejoicing, happy Isaac, happy cab driver.
After hours of getting lost I arrived at the airbnb, where the next surprise awaited: no central heating. My room’s only heat source was a heat fan you can turn on for increments of time, and of course it was not turned on when I arrived. My first night in Tokyo I built a tent out of a mattress, a pillow, and a blanket, right in front of the fan to try and direct the air flow towards myself and make a first attempt at drying my clothes.
Tokyo is an amazing city. My second time there, the fascination returned quickly. It’s truly inspiring being somewhere that, to a westerner, is a much different take on what a highly developed metropolis can be. It’s not all good. there’s a huge disconnect in between people. You never feel like you can just start talking to a stranger on the street, no matter the circumstances. Everyone seems to keep to their own. But there’s still, magically, a sense of community. This feeling that you’re all in it together. There’s respect and tolerance. You never feel threatened or looked down upon. People seem to genuinely care about others around them, even if they’re complete strangers, even if they would never talk to each other.
I ended up wandering a lot the first few days. My colleague Jorge and his lovely girlfriend Esther arrived a few days later and Esther made sure I saw something note-worthy. We went to the temple and saw ice sculptures. Later we found an Irish pub and racked up a hefty bill. That was a good day.
Once the whole Mobile Team had arrived, the pace changed quite a bit. The team got together to work on a set of smaller projects. Some of us were feeling under the weather. Once I had a consistent fever I ended up staying in my room for a few days. Eventually I emerged, but with a lingering cough. So I got myself a face mask. It only seemed right.