Anyone that hasn't lived in Japan isn't really going to have an idea of how hard it is to find a specific address here, especially one in an older part of a big city like Tokyo. It's one thing to say that the streets were laid out in U-shapes, rather than straight lines, to prevent invading forces from having a route leading directly to the main castle. It's quite another to be placed in the middle of those streets and then try to figure out why you can't get to A from B.
Before leaving for Shimo-Kitazawa to visit GAoh!, I drew out the map I got from the GAoh! website. There weren't any street names at that level (which often doesn't matter because there's no signs with the street names at most small intersections, anyway) but I figured that I'd just be able to count the intersections to figure out where to turn.
My adventure started before I even got out of the station. Shimo-Kitazawa is laid out like an "X", with the ends pointing roughly NW, NE, SE and SW, and is the intersection of two competing lines - Odakyu and Keio. Even if you follow the signs for the "south" exit, it's not clear if this is the SE or SW one. Further, there's no real main floor that exits out to the streets everywhere. When I got off the train, I followed the signs up one flight of stairs, around a corner, down another flight, along a platform, up yet another flight, around another corner and down another flight before hitting the street from the Odakyu side of the station.
Setting out in the direction that I thought I was supposed to go according to my map, I got to what looked like the right intersection, and couldn't find any place with the sign "GAoh!" out front, so I tried going in a slightly wider circle, got to where the streets lined up with the map, and again, nothing. One more try, still nothing. Finally, I just aimed for a major through street and started following it to see if I could accomplish something through brute force. When I got to a track crossing, I knew something was wrong, so I went to the station across the street, looked at the map on the wall, and found that I was heading in the opposite direction from where I wanted and was now at Keio Shin-Daita station. Fortunately, I was just one stop from Shimo-Kitazawa, so 130 yen ($1.30) and 5 minutes later, I was back in the SK station where I started, but now on the Keio platform instead of the Odakyu one.
So, I follow the signs again, and this time take the Keio south exit, which dropped me off in front of a warren of little alleys and shops. Again, the streets kind of lined up with the map but not completely, so I go in one direction, wander for half an hour, find myself back at the station, turn in the other direction and try again. There are people everywhere, shops and art galleries everywhere, but no street level maps. After another 30 minutes, I give up and just head into a residential area that kind of matches the map. Soon, I notice an address on a telephone pole - 2-27.
Tokyo is set up in districts. Shimo-Kitazawa 1, SK 2, SK 3, etc. Within each district there are smaller areas that are also numbered: SK 2-1, SK 2-2, SK 2-3, etc. What I wanted (because I did write down the address) was SK 5-35-7. I had been in 3-25 and now I was in 2-27. A block away was a construction site, and a security guard was standing on the street in front of the lot where the work was going on, and I went up to him to ask for help. He ran into the building and came out with a pocketbook map. Turned out that he lived elsewhere and needed the map with the route drawn in red marker to get to this site, himself.
The guard showed me where SK 5-35 was - just 4 blocks off to the northwest, and from there I'd be able to find 5-35-11 and could ask someone else for help. I thank him, and set off. Soon I'm at 5 something but I can't find another telephone pole with the address on it and most of the shop doors don't have the addresses either. So again, I'm wandering around clueless.
Because Umezz is a horror writer, and GAoH! is exhibiting his works, I've got this constant feeling that the shop is just around a corner and I'm going to stumble on it by accident. But that doesn't happen. After another 10 minutes, I find an address - 5-37. I wander around and find 5-36. Then I'm in the SK 2 district. I go back. 5-36. I go forward. 2-24 (or something like it). I go back. I find a young guy standing outside a clothing shop. I show him my map and point at the address - 5-35-7. I tell him I'm looking for "GAoh!" and he immediately holds his hand up in Umezz's secret signature gesture and repeats "gao".
I nod my head furiously and say "yes, yes". He smiles and says that 5-35 is a little off to my left, but he can't say exactly where the gallery is because he doesn't know. When I get to 5-35, I'll have to wander around again. I thank him, go in the indicated direction, and suddenly run into another construction site where the street is blocked off. Can't get there from here. Keep going forward. Now I'm back in SK 2. At the next left, I turn. Streets get windy and the construction work is still in the way on my left. 2 blocks down, I turn left again, go 20 feet and there's the Gallery right in front of my face. Waiting to pounce when I'm not ready, just around the next corner. GAoh!
The problem is that street numbers in Japan aren't consecutive based on how far you are from the east-west, north-south dividing point. Instead, they're assigned in the order that the buildings go up. Even taxi drivers and pizza delivery boys, who make their livings knowing where specific addresses are, get lost all the time. There's a reason why car GPS systems are so popular here.
After I'm done looking at Umezz's art, I turn back and aim for the station. I've already seen so much of this part of SK that I can actually get to the station pretty easily. It's 4 blocks east-northeast, 6 blocks northwest. I take photos along the way to document the path for the blog entry. It's only taken me 2.5 hours to find the gallery, 20 minutes to look at everything, 3 minutes to get back to the station.
Now, of course, the problem is getting IN to the station. I'm facing the Keio south entrance, and I want the Odakyu side. So I walk along the east side of the station 2 blocks and get to a track crossing. There's 20 people waiting to cross when I get there. 100 when I give up. I'm at a major train crossing right next to the station's platform. Every time one train pulls out, another pulls in. The barriers never go up to let us cross. Figuring that it's faster to walk back the 2 blocks, I head back and come across an elevator entrance tucked in around a little nook. I press the button, get on the elevator, and now I'm back in the station, and just saved myself a 2 block walk. The ticket gate is right in front of me. I follow the sign down the nearest stairs and get on the platform 40 feet away from the street crossing I'd just been standing at waiting for the barrier to go up. Barrier is still down and the people are still waiting behind it.
Don't ask me how this works, you have to experience it yourself to understand.