November 29, 2011

New Narcotic: Blue Fall

a. Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance.
b. The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something.

Imagine yourself suspended 107 meters in the air, legs and arms dangling in the abyss that lies only inches away. Then, abruptly you’re hurtling toward the pavement below, the horizon a blur, and the only sounds are the air rushing past your ears—and your screams. I have ridden this Blue Fall to bliss at least seven times so far.

What I am referring to is an amusement park ride called the Blue Fall, at the Sea Paradise amusement park outside Yokohama.

This summer we bought a season pass to Sea Paradise because we thought we’d come a few times, see the aqua exhibitions, the aquarium, rides and other attractions, and the pass made it very economical. Lady E and M are easily entertained here, and, it seems, so am I. The Blue Fall tower caught my eye from the start – love at first fright? – and I soon found that I had gotten far more than I bargained for. I’d found a new addiction!

Click on the YouTube segment below and you’ll get a taste of the visceral euphoria induced by this ride.

We’ve been to Sea Paradise five times, and with each visit I clamor for more opportunities to strap into the Blue Fall chairs and drop, baby! It is such an intense rush that it has become an addiction. I’ve yet to experience anything like it, except for maybe skydiving.

The Rising Daughters can only watch this spectacle for now. When my folks came to visit recently, Naomi and I did a drop together (she is far better at handling the terrors of acrophobia than me) and I truly hope that seeing us reveling in the managed extremes of life –even for just a few seconds – will leave an positive, “go get ‘em” impression on the girls. Time will tell.

I recommend this ride or similar ones to anyone out there craving a thrill, because in those 5-10 hair-raising seconds that you are plummeting toward the Earth, everything in your life becomes crystal clear and focused (as you’re screaming). I adore the irony of a voluntary free fall mimicry of death just to feel truly alive.


November 18, 2011

Sometimes Hell on Rails

The Rising Family moved to Yokohama this year primarily because of my job change. The shift to this larger, more crowded and congested city has altered the way I commute to my workplace. I’d gotten used to the freedom of going to work by motorcycle/scooter, and with a new life in Yokohama I’ve had to embrace a different way to commute. Now I take the train and am more governed by schedules.

Sometimes, traveling by train feels like the stereotypical image of Tokyo—people crammed like sardines in the subway tin can. Other times, the stark, stinky reality is that those stereotypes can be true, especially during the 0800 rush hour. Nasty.

I am a salaryman! I must commute!
Before we decided to live in Yokohama, Naomi and I discussed the distance from our prospective house to my office building, how much time it would take, and of course, how close was the nearest train station. Once I’d started my job, I also began my transformation into Public Transport Commuting Man. A daily commute by car was not an option in this city (no parking, prohibitively expensive, inevitable soul-crushing traffic snarls) and an invigorating motorcycle ride was no longer feasible. Ergo—train ahoy! Here’s a rundown of my typical daily commute to the office, and -- once the workday is done – how I return home.

- Leave house. Board trusty scooter, and avoid slamming into lumbering buses due to caffeine deficit. Park near train station. (Decision point: Apply manly mousse to avoid helmet head hair?)

- Merge with streams of dark-suited comrade salarymen, carefully coiffed salary ladies, comparatively docile junior and high school kids, still-drunk party reptiles going home to sleep, and random persons, all streaming at full speed toward the same station entrance.

- Navigate escalators and stairs
Escalators or stairs up/down have their perils. You have to stay on the left side if you want to ride, lest you be body-boarded from behind by some frantic commuter barreling toward their train that always seems to be leaving in one minute. Or you join the moving fray on the right side. It’s a zero-sum game. If you take the stairs, bodies are forced closer and closer. One’s footsteps must be carefully placed to avoid touching others at all costs or cause old ladies to fall over. Personal space is treasured, because it soon disappears as your nose gets thrust into someone else’s armpit in the onboard body crush.

- Wait for train. Try to decipher all the different types of trains: Local (stops at every station); Rapid (stops at every five stops); Express (damn thing never stops at my station). Avoid spit or puke on the train platform, and avoid embarrassment and potential litigation by inadvertently boarding the “Women Only” cars.

- Shuffle into the yawning mouth of the train. In the morning rush hour, the people pressure gradually increases until you are crammed up against some stranger: the raffish-looking old guys smelling of last night’s binge; the resigned-to-fate college student; the odd person (both sexes, I might add) with nefarious breath and questionable hygiene, and the occasional (and surprisingly uncomplaining) infant toted by weary-looking moms —yep, I’ve gotten to know all types! More intimately than I prefer, I should add.

One legal note: to absolutely avoid being accused of being a pervert/groper (known as a chikan in Japan) I devised an intricate posture of having my soft briefcase looped across my chest, one hand clutched in a hand strap, with the other arm folded in front. I can rest my chin, and rest assured that both hands are up in the air, clearly visible to all. I jest, but groping is a serious problem and I just avoid it by doing this intricate maneuver.

- You may ask: Once the train starts rolling, how do you pass the time?
a) Read work documents, multitask? Yeah, right. Fuggedaboutit.
b) Think about life? Not before coffee.
c) Look around? Must…avoid….eye…all...costs.
d) Smell the fragrant odors that abound (especially in summer). No thanks. Repugnant for the most part, even with Japanese people, who are a very clean and fastidious lot.
e) Scheme about world domination? On occasion.
f) Relax? Read a book or a magazine? Fuggedaboutit, Part II.
g) Talk out loud (to myself) in English? Now, that would really freak everyone out in the chatterless train Cone of Silence. Hmm…“give the crazy gaijin some space….”
h) That leaves my iPod.
Personal devices were perfected in Japan because these kinds of urban commutes naturally created the environment for Sony engineers to invent the Walkman for their own sanity. The technology has evolved, and I use my iPod to keep up with news from home via podcasts. When I am really bone-ass tired, I flip to some music to get my juices flowing before the workday starts.

Once the train reaches my stop, I, together with all the other conscious passengers, are purged through the doors and I join an even greater sea of people trampling toward the office building district in downtown Yokohama. Apparently Yokohama Station is the fifth busiest train/subway interchange station in Japan, serving about two million passengers per day—the vast majority of them taking the same trains, at the same time, that I do.

Is commuting the worst part of the day? No, like everything in life, it just depends on how many painkillers you take.

The commute home? I sleep. Standing up.