The Coolest Thing I Did This Year

The Arcade Fire, Reflektor

I have a bad memory.

I feel like this is at least in part due to my heroic intake of aspartame via diet coke from my early childhood up until a few years ago, when I kicked it more-or-less entirely. I’m certainly hoping that someone draws a link between aspartame and memory loss, because I am DOWN for some of that sweet class-action money–my diet coke intake was so prodigious that it even got a shout-out in volume 4 of Scott Pilgrim.

But I digress.

I have a bad memory, and so when someone asks me how my summer was, or to reflect on my year, or “so what was the coolest thing about your trip to Japan?” I get a little scared because I can never pull that info up. I’m bad at it. I try to rehearse a few key things so I have something to do other than stare blankly. Japan trips in particular are tough, because I’m usually pretty depressed when I come back from Japan, and the trip itself has smushed together into a warm fuzzy comforting blur, and the disparity between those two states of mind, and my aformentioned poor memory, tend to obliterate details in their entirety.

So, we were talking about music at work, and cool music we liked this year (This was a month ago, when that discussion would’ve made sense, but I’ve also gotten shitty at blogging in a timely fashion so here we are, February!). I mentioned that I really liked the new Arcade Fire, Reflektor, and then I remembered how I came to own it, and it was one of the coolest things I did this year.

You see I was in Japan, and I was there for three weeks. Long trip! I knew I wanted to travel and get out of Tokyo, my last bunch of trips had been confined to Tokyo, and while I love the city, Japan has lots for me to discover, and those discoveries tend to come more quickly when I travel outside of the city. So I bought a JR Pass, a rail pass good for free travel on the national train lines anywhere in the country. And I decided that I would either go to Hiroshima, I’ve never been, or go back to Hokkaido (and Sapporo in particular) because I’d only been once and loved it there. I’d let fate decide, I had a bit of business I could do for UDON with the good folks at Crypton (stewards of international virtual idol sensation Hatsune Miku), headquartered in Sapporo. If they wanted to meet with me, I’d go to Sapporo. If they were unable, I’d go to Hiroshima.

I should note, at this point, I fully intend to go to Hiroshima, I just haven’t been able to commit to it, it’s huge in my head… I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s too big, and sad. Seriously. I went to the war museum adjacent to the highly-controversial Yasakuni Shrine, and I was bawling by the end of that. Meticulously catalogued death, I could not deal. So, yeah, I’m going to go, but I just need to psyche myself up for it. Next time.

As you may have guessed, I went up north to Hokkaido. I spent the night in Hakodate, a lovely little town with great history, food, and lots of onsen. Super cute trolleys running through the town too. It was a great stop, and now I want to go back there, too.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself a little here.

The main island of Japan, the island that Tokyo and Osaka and Kyoto are on, is called Honshu, And the island north of that is Hokkaido, and that’s the island that Sapporo is on, and they brew beer there. Actually, I have a lot more to say about Sapporo than that, including that I love it there and could totally live there for the three summer months that Tokyo basically becomes unliveable thanks to the 105 degree heat, digress digress digress.

To get from Tokyo to Sapporo, most Japanese just fly. It costs about $100, $150 to do so, round trip. It’s about an hour and a half. Like flying Toronto to New York. It’s like… 9 or 10 hours by train, I think. But, if you’re going to Osaka and Kyoto and wherever else in Japan, where you would have to pay for train tickets anyway, it becomes free to go up to Hokkaido… if you bought a train pass. Frankly, I can use some time to decompress, I’m a little busy usually, a 5 hour stretch on a train actually sounds lovely. Except, as I mentioned it’s a separate island. But, amazingly, the Japanese government built a railway and drilled a tunnel underground to connect the two islands, under the Tsugaru Strait, called the Sekai tunnel, and it goes underground and underwater for nearly 24km. It goes 240m below sea level, and 140m below the seabed. If you have fears of things related to those two ideas, it is intense. It connects Aomori, on Honshu, with Hakodate, on Hokkaido.

Also, it now becomes relevant to point out that for like 8 bucks a day you can get a sim card for your iphone with unlimited data, unlimited local calling, and a bunch of free international calling, for your trip to Japan. There’s nothing like decompressing on a train for 5 hours when you can just read infinite tweets.

So I’m in Aomori, and I get on a train named SUPER HAKUCHO, and via Twitter I read, and am reminded, that The Arcade Fire released their album the day prior.

So I go to iTunes, which works just fine, and I see it’s there.

And as my train is hurtling at high-speed towards a 24km tunnel under the sea in Japan, I purchase, and download the complete album on my phone. It completes in about 8 minutes.

I start listening to the album as we enter the tunnel. I’m 240m below sea-level on the other side of the world, listening to my favourite Canadian band on my phone.

I smile, because every aspect of that moment is something that I had wished for, longed for, really, since I was a child and first became enchanted by the promise of technology, and travel, and Japan as a gateway to these ideas.

I get that this is a stupid, small moment, and one that I’d seemingly forgotten until last month, but looking back at it, it’s just so… cool. The perfect encapsulation of the life I’ve wanted for so long, and now it’s here, and isn’t that great? 

Anyway, just thought I’d share. Hope you had some cool stuff happen to you this year as well.  🙂

– Chris
P.S.: I really liked the album, obviously.


One Reply to “The Coolest Thing I Did This Year”

  1. Awesome story.

    The only music I’ve purposely listened to for the past several months has been Reflektor. I mean I “listen” to the radio in the car … and I “listen” to the kids music I play for Colin … but when I choose music to listen to, it’s been Reflektor.

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