October 05, 2007

GP07 Japan, Motegi - "It Means Gamble" Part 1

Ok, so maybe Motegi doesn't mean Gamble, but it sure felt like it! Lots of things happened at the Japanese Gran Prix, but before we even got to the racetrack, we had to get there - and that's where the fun begins! I absolutely LOVE Japan, and I hope some of my enthusiasm bleeds off on you.

After leaving Portugal at dawn on Monday, flying to Frankfurt, and then boarding an older Lufthansa flight to Narita (Tokyo), we arrived mid-morning on Tuesday. Getting ahold of the rental car is always a time consuming process, but after about two hours the Team had shuttled over to the car lot and picked up our little vans. We quickly stuffed them full of our luggage and began making plans for our assault on Tokyo proper. Language difficulties ensued, and one of the prime reasons is that everyone was so eager to please and say "yes" that we were never really sure if people understood what we wanted. What we wanted to do was leave the rental cars on the lot, loaded with our gear, while we shuttled back to the airport so we could take the Express Train into Tokyo central. Later in the day, we would come back to pick up the cars and take off for Mito, about 2.5 hours from Tokyo. That's not so hard, is it? IT IS.

We made it back to the airport, exchanged some Euros for COLD HARD CASH (YAY!!!), and bought our train tickets. You could take the normal train to Tokyo, which is two hours worth of sleep, or spend a little more and take the Narita Express, which only takes about 50 minutes. It leaves every half hour, and that's the route we took. Once onboard, we learned you have to sit in a specific seat, but as the train was mostly empty, the boys sprawled out wherever they wanted and napped most of the way. Most of the team complained of being tired, so they didn't end up going to Tokyo, instead driving directly to Mito. The adventurous sorts came with us, and we were a pack of eight headed into the heart of the Rising Sun. I was too excited to sleep, so I stayed up talking with David, from Galacia, and we ordered some drinks and snacks when the food cart came around. It was surprisingly affordable for a sandwich and some cold coffee drinks (best I've found in cans anywhere in the world).

We finally got off at the appropriately named Tokyo Station, made plans to meet back at the 4:30PM, and split off to catch the local metro to Akihabara, the electronics district that features stores selling new and used gear at incredible prices. We were headed into Nerd Heaven, and I couldn't wait. The metro to Akihabara was quick and easy, and because we'd been on planes and in airports for the last 36 hours, the first thing we did was get to eating. I had already started, but that didn't stop me and Lele from finding a good Japanese sushi bar. Everyone else hit an "American" joint, complete with burgers and steaks. Gross! How can you eat that stuff when you're in Japan?!?

No seriously, do you know where the White Rabbit is?

After eating, we navigated our way through a maze of small streets and small stores, checking out used Cameras (which looked brand new) and other electronic doodads. I couldn't believe the prices, and because I was already set up for it, I picked up a 2004 Sony handheld camera on the cheap. This was going to be the next camera for me, as it featured MACRO, and I had memory sticks and extra batteries just waiting for it back in Spain. That's right, I'm officially off the Casio and back in the Sony fold. Phew, it feels so good to be using something I'm familiar with, even if it is a couple years old.

While walking around, you're constantly noticing how different things are here. It's not just the way people dress, it's how radically goofy everything can look when you're from the US or Europe. Strange costumed girls handing out fliers, giant 7 story mega-stores selling everything from iPods to Rolexes to luggage, tiny specialty shops that only sell porno video games, it's truly bizarre. And the bikes! Woot! This little Suzuki had some of the fattest knobbies I've seen in a while, and like older Harleys, it too, marked it's spot.

Mister Mister? Not quite, but Mister Donut is a dieter's nightmare. I swear, I gained a kilo just smelling the air when I walked past this place.

We ran into guys from Kawasaki wandering around, chatted with Davide Brivio and a couple peeps from Fiat Yamaha, and I was surprised how many other Team folks had made the journey into Akihabara. Turns out everyone was looking for the Video Nano iPod. I'm so sick of the scroll wheel, there's no way I'll be running one of those again. I had my eye on other goodies. Namely, true to this year's pattern, I picked up another hat! "Is this Pimp, or what?"

No, no, this is how Rocky looked!

Or did Rocky look like this? Special thanks to my Italians for modelling so well, Lele, Andrea, and Sergio.

I came across this cool mid-nineties Monkey, complete with rider! I don't understand how he could have left it "stock" for this long. Modify or die! In all things.

Even though we'd just been to a bicycle store in Estoril, we still managed to find another one in Japan. After just having translated the press release that cut Hofmann from the team, I thought this was strange to see. One crew had no idea who we'd be working with at the Japan race, because time was short and we were on the opposite side of the planet from Europe. Would we be having an easier weekend with only one rider in the race? We had no idea at this point.

With all the travel we'd been going through, I hadn't been riding my bike a lot through Barcelona, instead preferring to walk most of the time. Seeing all the nice, trick equipment got my mind running again. "Man, I wish I was in better shape, hahaha" On out way out of Akihabara (where I learned you can bargain somewhat with the smaller vendors) I caught this war wagon just hanging out. Turns out you also can't smoke in public or on the streets there, so passing little bars/cafes you'd see smoke billowing out while everyone was jam packed inside puffing away.

We caught our trains back to Narita airport, everyone taking time to show off the goods we'd collected, and then we got lost trying to find Mito because our onboard Nav equipment was completely incomprehensible and it led us around in circles. It took much longer than expected to make it to the hotel, but eventually we found it, checked in, and had dinner. Our shipping containers weren't arriving to the circuit until Wednesday night, so instead of starting our normal routine the next day, we slept in and had a free day in Mito to wander around and just cruise. A few of us had a nice combination meal of Miso Ramen at a small place, possibly with the worst gyoza ever, and I got a little ill from it. It didn't hold me back from pushing on, but if you end up in a place that looks just like this in Mito, turn around. That's me sitting with our 2 coordinators. Yes, this year we have two people doing the job. Last year we had one.

Mito Time! Although Mito is 45 minutes from the circuit (on a clear day with no traffic), I still prefer staying here to some place out in the boonies. The town is easy to figure out, with most things surrounding the train station located in the center of everything. There are a ton of vintage clothing stores, some strange motorcycle shops (like the actual Nankai store), and it's fun to just walk around. Rizla Suzuki, Honda Gresini, Bridgestone, Marlboro Ducati, and more teams were staying here, so it was neat walking around and bumping into people. What'd you buy? I got this! Stuff like that. The Euros were so out of place it wasn't even funny, except to me!

At the Nankai store, everyone tried on helmets. The Arai's in Japan have different shapes and sizes (internally), and they're definitely cheaper here than buying them anywhere else I've seen. This is obviously NOT an Arai.

Wandering around might possibly be one of my favorite past times. I like to think I'm good at it, being able to watch my surroundings and figure out if I'm going to get in trouble. It's also the best way I've found to really see the lives of the people, where and how they live. I found a little back alley in Mito, and all the way at the end I spied this!

Boo-Yah! Special Edition Fast Freddie Spencer colors! Or is it Rothman's colors? Who can tell me more about this?

I walked back into our hotel in the afternoon to see two of the hotel girls standing around with cameras, watching me as I headed to the elevators. Surely, they didn't want pictures of me - so I took one of them just to make sure.

Turns out they were waiting for these two to come out of the elevators, Captain Jack Sparrow and Trinity!

More war wagons, hahaha.

My day had wound down and I was a bit tired from all the travel and walking around. I split off from the group and had a quiet dinner at a luxurious sushi bar a little ways from the hotel, and that's a photo post for another time. Will be back with Part 2, and the Motegi race, tomorrow. What - you didn't know that Casey Stoner and Ducati Corse locked up the World Championship at this race? Where have you guys been?


Nice write-up, Liam. Did you come across a huge electronics store or mall called 'Deo-Deo'? My brother told me about that place when he went to Tokyo and he said it's one of the biggest electronics place there.

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