Aoto Change: Japanese Transportation on Day 1

Taking a cab from Narita Airport to the center of Tokyo costs about $300. The only way to travel is via train or subway. This is my tale.

Panic. Damnit. Despite hearing that Tokyo's transit system is the most comprehensive of any in the world, I neglected to look up detailed directions from Narita airport to my hotel. Nearing 11pm, I was also worried that train service would stop soon: Tokyo's one drawback when compared to the NYC's MTA system.
Busiest Pedestrian Intersection + Photo crashers

At the information booth, though there is a seat, there is no person. Yep, sign saying 'Open' but no human body in the seat. Instead, I was greeted with a monitor hooked to a phone and camera. Upon lifting the receiver, the monitor turns on and I'm face to face with a live agent who is probably at home, pajamas on from the waist down. Despite this fact, he informs me which system and transit I am meant to take to my destination as well as alerting me that the attendant at the teller machines will help me. Yea, right. Have you ever seen a friendly or helpful MTA employee? I constantly overhear tourists trying to get simple directions only to be answered with a roll of the eye and a grunt. What a welcome to NYC. 

Anyway, knowing that the payment system in most of Japan was cash only, I go to the ATM, which, to my complete annoyance, is not conveniently located near the ticket counters. In frustration, I turn left and right mumbling to myself, thinking that placement of said ATM is painfully un-Japanese-like. The Japanese normally think of everything and simplify life in the name of efficiency. One HUGE reason why I love Japan and Japanese culture; the second was surprising to me and follows...

Finally found ATM. Excellent. Figuring ¥10,000 (~$100) was a good start for cash, I pick that amount. To my utter surprise laced with horror, only a single ¥10,000 note is dispensed! What in Tokyo-san's name am I supposed to do with this!? Surely the tickets can't cost more than a few hundred yen. How the heck am I to use a ten-thousand smackaroo note for a machine that I assume (like first world NYC's MTA) would surely take only coins?

Luckily, I spot the ticket attendant and he doesn't appear surly. Unluckily, he speaks next to zero English. Fruck. But luckily again, he's the nicest transit authority person I have met in my life. Incidentally, this niceness becomes the other big reason I end up falling in love with Japan and Japanese culture. The attendant wants me to board my train, and he wants me to board the soonest possible one. Hustling into the office, he quickly figures out what transit I need after the one thing I utter, which is "Kay-say Nin-gyocho," the phrase that tv-telephone-pajamas guy told me to say. Hurrying back, he motions me to the ticket counter, takes care of all the button pushing on the machine, whose signage is in all Japanese, and looks at me to say, "No, no credit, only money."

Seeing the total is for about ¥600, I respond, "But... but... I only have this! ATM!" as I lamely and helplessly point to the single bill in my hand.

"Ok, ok. Good, good. Here!" Apparently this machine takes ten thousand dolla bills, yo. Sweet.

He lets me take the bundle of change that was spit out by the renegade, master-of-the-universe ticket machine (¥9,000 in paper bills!) but personally hands me the ticket. "Keisei! Numba 3! Platform 3!" Glancing at the monitor, I have four minutes. No problem. "Auto change," he says.

"Huh? I have to change, but it's auto-matic?"

"Yes, yes. Auto. Change."

Awesome. Whew. So I was headed in the right direction. Standing in the train car with far too much stuff, I am staring at the subway map. A few moments later, a sinking feeling creeps into my stomach.  I realize I'm not actually soaking up the map of the entire transit system in Tokyo. No-no, sir, I am looking at one transit line on the map. It has something like 85 stops going in varying directions, with six different frequencies! Local, local commuter, commuter, express, super express, Harry Potter style express. Eyes wide, my only reaction is suppress a scream.

I've lived in NYC. I've lived in London. Also at this point, I'd traveled to a few dozen countries. Tokyo encompasses a brand new wild beast of a transportation system. Knowing I was still far away, but needing to find out exactly how far, I spent no less than 19 minutes staring at the map, squinting at the fine print trying to find "Nin-gyocho." Eventually, I see it. I need to change. Cool, I knew that. I need to change at Aoto.

Ah. Lightbulb moment. Now it all makes sense.

Thank you Mr. Metro attendant. You were awesome. 

The Beginning

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