After six years, I’m back in Japan! The last time I visited, I hadn’t even started high school yet. On train rides, I would read my summer reading books (The Joy Luck Club and Why Geography Matters). Today, I read The Book Thief, a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while.
I’m staying in Chiba, the city where I lived as a toddler, at a family friend’s house. It’s a short 5-minute walk away from Chishirodai (千城台), a terminal station on the Chiba Urban Monorail. This monorail is the longest suspended monorail system in the world at 15.2 km (according to Wikipedia), and it’s pretty cute. The ride is super smooth.
The monorail system offers a one-day pass, valid from 10:00 to 18:00, for ¥620, so I bought a pass and decided to visit Inagekaigan, the station closest to my childhood home. I knew from my father that there was a post office (郵便局, yuubinkyoku) nearby, and I saw from Google Maps that there was a FamilyMart around the corner. (There are lots of FamilyMarts and 7-Elevens in Japan.)
I took the monorail from Chishirodai to Chibaminato (千葉みなと), the other terminal station, reading The Book Thief along the way. At Chibaminato, I planned to transfer to a JR train, which would take me to Inagekaigan.
There, I ran into a problem. In Japan, the train systems do not use a flat rate. Instead, you pay for the distance you travel. So at each station, there is a map of all the stations and next to each station is the price you need to pay to get there from the current station. I could tell where Chibaminato was on the map; it was the boxed and bolded text. But which one was Inagekaigan? I am quite illiterate, and there was no rōmaji or hiragana to help me. I ended up asking a stranger who was also buying a ticket. Turns out Inagekaigan (稲毛海岸) was just the next station over on the Keiyō line. Cool.
Ten minutes later, I stepped out of the Inagekaigan station into a plaza. Nope. No recognition whatsoever. There was a cool statue though.
I went to a 7-Eleven (コンビニ, konbini) and bought rice balls (おにぎり, onigiri) and milk tea. I have a weakness for rice balls and milk tea. The rice ball had nice, chewy rice and some fishy filling in the center. The milk tea was surprisingly not sweet at all. I had lunch in the plaza, next to some elders having beer. Side note: I love the bicycles in Japan. They have huge baskets (sometimes two!) and low-step frames and long fenders.
After eating, I went to find my old home. I managed to find both the FamilyMart and the post office, so I guess the building behind them must be where I lived? I have no idea, and I felt no sense of recollection. The FamilyMart I recognized from Google Maps, which was how I knew I was in the correct place.
I walked a bit farther and came across a place I DID recognize, but only from photographs.
That was about it. Afterwards, I wandered around for an hour, looking for Tokyo Bay, which was supposedly close by. I must have gone in the wrong direction because I never found it. I returned to Inagekaigen-eki (eki is station) and decided to go to Chiba-eki (千葉駅). My ticket got stuck inside the ticket machine, so somebody had to come open it up, which was pretty cool. There are lots of shiny moving parts inside those things.
The sign outside the Chiba station had directions to a library, so of course that’s where I went. The library was lovely, and I read one of the books from a display of short stories. Most of the stories were about people trying to get rich (usually through some questionable means) and then ending up bankrupt or experiencing some catastrophe. In some of the stories, the thief gets away with riches. (something something about books and thieves and The Book Thief.)
A few blocks away from the library is the Chiba Park, which was also lovely. It featured walking paths, a baseball field, a playground, a lake.
The koi in the lake were huge, easily at least 45 centimeters.
The time was 16:50 and my monorail pass was to expire at 18:00, so I went back to the station and started heading back, stopping at the Sports Center station on the way to take a stroll around the area. Lots of stadiums and fields and trees.
I hear there’s also a zoological park and a city hall along the monorail. I didn’t get that much out of going back to where I lived 16 years ago, but I did get to explore Chiba. \o/