Last week, I posted this “Where Am I” moment on my Facebook page. Nobody was able to get it correct though a couple came close with the city that the place was located. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the time I got lost in Shinjuku Station.
How I first came across this moment? Let’s rewind to 2007…May 28th. It was Memorial Day and I was fresh in Tokyo for less than a week. With a free day in hand, I decided to take the JR East Chūō Rapid Line from Fussa into the city, where I was to connect at Shinjuku Station to the Yamanote Line all the way to Ebisu Station, where I’d hop on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Kamiyachō Station…a stone’s throw away from Tokyo Tower. But somehow, I got mixed up with where the Yamanote Line platform at Shinjuku was and I kept following signs but I never found the platform. It was later discovered that this was because I exited the JR East portion of the station. After about 15 minutes, I realized that I was lost in the train station. At that point, it wasn’t about making it to Tokyo Tower anymore…it was about finding the Chūō/Ōme Line platform. Very quickly, I found myself in very unfamiliar surroundings. In looking for the Chūō/Ōme Line platform, I passed by the Odakyu Line side and didn’t understand any of the signs. They hadn’t converted to English at that point and I didn’t even know how to say konnichiwa at the time. I ended up going down an escalator and I found myself in the vicinity of the Keio Line platform and the accompanying Keio Department Store. Back up the escalators I went and I passed by the Lumine and MyLord department stores. I asked some old Japanese dude where was the Chūō Line platform but I think he misunderstood me and pointed me in a direction that eventually led me to the Tokyo Metro Promenade…in the deep underground. I was getting really frustrated and I actually started to worry a little bit. That’s when I just simply approached the Tokyo Metro station attendant and by the grace of God, she spoke and understood English. I told her where I needed to go and she pulled out a map and highlighted a line on which way I was supposed to go. 5 minutes later, after being lost for 2 hours, I was on the platform on the JR Chūō/Ōme Line.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, it was frustrating. I didn’t know a lick of Japanese and I was lost in a massive train station that seemed to have endless exits and a lot of places out of my way. It didn’t help that I left my backpack at home so I didn’t have anything to write a message with and I didn’t have a Japanese cell phone at that point. I wasn’t scared because I never felt threatened or anything but I was worried that I wouldn’t find my way back to Fussa.
What it means to me now? That is ancient history to me now. It’s a reminder of how green I was in my familiarity with the Greater Tokyo rail network. For the rest of that summer, leading up to my fall deployment to Iraq, I studied the rail system—the train lines, the stations, the sides the doors opened—and I mastered it. Getting lost in Shinjuku Station is the primary reason why I’m surgical with my approach to rail transport.