Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Quest for the Unknown Tower

(What started it all - a view from the window)

I've been working in Akihabara for 8 weeks now, and every so often, I'll go to the break room and look out the window at the city. I'd noticed these two towers out about a mile away and I wanted to know what they are. Since it takes an hour to get to Akihabara from my apartment, I didn't want to come in to the city just to try to go to these towers on my off-day. So, one Thursday night, when I had something else going on there, I'd gotten into Akihabara at my usual time and found myself with 2 hours to kill before the event started. Thus began my first misbegotten steps in my search (point 1 on the map below).

(A closer view. That's Tokyo Tower at the upper right corner.)

It doesn't help if you start out facing the wrong way. I was looking towards Chuu-ou dori (Chuu-ou street) and I just set out heading west. It was a nice night, and lots of pretty lights to look at, so I didn't mind the fact that I couldn't see the airplane warning lights of the towers at any point between the breaks in the buildings. Eventually I stumbled across Kanda Myojin, and Yushima Shrine (point 2). Happy to have something to take pictures of, I stopped, snapped some shots, and headed back to the station, figuring that I'd messed up somewhere. Along the way, I found a really nice little coffee shop that roasts its own beans, and stopped in for a cup of Blue Mountain coffee, and a pleasant chat with the owner and one of the customers. After half an hour, I continued back to the station and then to my office nearby for the event.

(A break between the buildings.)

Thinking about it, I realized that I needed to head south down along Chuu-ou dori, instead of west. So, last Saturday, when I got in to Akihabara at 9:00 AM, ahead of going in to teach, I had 45 minutes before needing to be in the office to set up. I decided that I'd walk out 15 minutes and then turn back regardless of whether I found anything. Pretty quickly, I saw the bigger of the two towers in a break between the buildings, and knew that I was heading in the right direction. I walked by Kanda train station, and past it another 2 blocks, and there it was (point 3). The tower sits beside a post office building, but there's no sign saying what it's for, and it had taken me 20 minutes to reach this spot. I took some pictures and turned around to go back to Akihabara.

(Gotcha! The building at the base is actually a next-door post office.)

I need to stop and mention right now that Tokyo is not laid out on a grid pattern with streets running straight east-west, north-south. The original plan was to have streets that formed U-curves so that an invading force would find itself heading back out of the city without finding a route leading straight to the city center. I forgot about that part.

(A detail shot.)

Going down a side street, I thought I'd gotten to Chuu-ou dori and I turned in what I thought was the north direction. After walking another 15 minutes, I reached a river that I didn't recognize (it certainly wasn't the river next to Akihabara), and I started to panic. I asked a couple of people for directions, and they pointed where I thought was where I didn't want to go. I found a koban (police box) and they pointed me back the way I came. There was a neighborhood map near the koban (point 4), and when I looked at it, I couldn't find Akihabara station anywhere. A woman had heard me asking for directions, and in Japanese told me that Akihabara was too far to walk and that I should take the subway back. She pointed the same direction everyone else had, and this time I realized that she meant the stairs down to the subway entrance.

(From across the street, on the (haha) "way back".)

By now, it was 9:40 AM and I was going to be late for work. My first lesson was to start at 10. So, I called the office to warn them, and ended up walking another block underground to get to the Ginza platform at Mitsubishi Mae (the station in front of Mitsubishi department store). I took the Ginza train to Kanda, ran outside the Ginza station to get to the JR station half a block away, then rode the JR Yamanote train in to Akihabara. I ran the 2 blocks to the office, and paced in the elevator while going up to my floor. I ran into the training room 1 minute before the online lesson was to start, and lucked out - someone had set the computer up and ready for me. As they say in Japanese - "giri-giri safe!". Fortunately, since this was an online lesson, the student couldn't tell that my shirt was soaked in sweat from the running, and I'd had that 1 minute to get my breathing under control.

(Reflection in a neighboring building.)

I now know the area better, and if I want to, I can get to the towers much more quickly from the Kanda station. (And after looking at the map, I now realize that I was only a few blocks short of the north end of JR Tokyo station, which also would have taken me back to Akihabara.)

(My path.)

But, I still don't know what the tower is called or what it's for, or why there are 2 of them.

And, you'd think that I wouldn't make the same mistake about cutting things too fine when lunch came around later that day, but you'd be wrong...

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