The date was June 10, 2017. The sky over Tokyo was a vibrant blue, with hardly any clouds in the sky. And somewhere in Shibuya ward, there was a college student on a mission, darting towards the nearest Lawson convenience store.
Of course, that student was me. I had just gotten off the Chuo-Sobu train at Sendagaya station, a small station in an area of Tokyo that I had never been before. I trusted almighty Google Maps (or as my Japanese friends like to call it, Google-sensei) to lead me to the nearest Lawson, as automated ticket machines are only available at certain Lawson stores. My goal for the day was to find one of these machines and purchase six tickets for the Mitaka Forest Ghibli Museum.
The Ghibli Museum, tucked away in a small city just outside of Tokyo proper, is a small establishment dedicated to the animated works of Studio Ghibli. With a tagline of “Let’s get lost together,” the museum features exhibits about animation work and various popular films such a Kiki’s Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro. The fame surrounding Ghibli films makes the museum a popular attraction for tourists. Extremely popular. As in, “tickets are sold one month in advance” popular. My friends and I, having missed our chances over the previous months, had decided to try one more time to purchase tickets. It was truly our last chance: buying tickets in June meant that the tickets would have to be for July. And because the IES Abroad program would end on July 9, it had to be during the first week. And because my friends and I were all very busy people, it was only realistic to go on the first weekend of July, on the 1st or 2nd. We knew that it would be an uphill struggle to get the tickets, with a lot of competition. So I took on the responsibility of collecting everyone’s money and purchasing the tickets as soon as the time opened.
Ticket sales opened at 10:00 AM. I had some business in Tokyo anyway, so I figured I would leave early and get to a Lawson beforehand so that I could immediately purchase the tickets. At least, that was the plan. When I reached the destination marked by Google maps, there was no Lawson store. In its place, nothing but fencing and distinctive green construction signs. Although annoyed, I didn’t have time to curse Google-sensei for not being omniscient. I searched for the next closest Lawson store and discovered that it was about fifteen minutes of walking away. It was 9:50 AM.
If I was hurrying before, now I was really booking it. I raced through narrow residential streets and down quiet avenues as the sun was bearing down on me. I reached the convenience store at about 10:10 AM, and without missing a second immediately went for the red ticket computer near the counter. I clicked on buttons and navigated menus. It was all in Japanese, but that was not a problem: I had looked up how to purchase the tickets beforehand. However, I was not prepared to see one error message that stopped me from continuing. Unable to read the kanji characters, I sent it to one of my Japanese friends to translate.
The alert said something along the lines of “The network is currently overburdened with requests. Please try again later.” The ticket machine would display this message until 10:17, when I was finally able to view what days were still available. It wasn’t good news.
A big red “X” marked July 1st, meaning tickets for that day were sold out. A black triangle marked the 2nd and several weekdays, meaning tickets for those days were almost all sold. At this point, I messaged my LINE group chat to ask everyone what backup day would work (a bit late, I know). But as anyone who has ever been in a group chat can tell you, asking quick replies is like trying to herd cats. After some back and forth between my friends and myself, we realized that trying to go to the museum together would be impossible. Even if we had compatible schedules, I was watching the tickets sell out in real time. For every day in July, circles (denoting “tickets available”) steadily gave way to triangles, before finally the display showed the month as a sea of red X’s.
It was at this moment that I noticed the store’s cashier was staring in my direction, his face showing a combination of concern and annoyance. It didn’t take me long to realize why. The ticket machine was placed right next to the entrance, so for the past thirty minutes or so I had been setting off the automatic door. It had been opening and closing nonstop, chirping out a noise each time. Pin-pon! Pin-pon! Pin-pon! Pin-pon!
A bit embarrassed and dejected, I left the convenience store as quickly as I came in. Despite the disappointment, my friends were all very supportive. “Thank you for trying your best!” “It’s unfortunate, but it can’t be helped!” “Don’t worry, we’ll find somewhere else to go together!” And as I returned to Sendagaya station around 11:00 AM, I received a message from my epal Natsumi. “Sorry, I just woke up! June 2 is ok with me!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
In the end, we all did find something else to do in July. Instead of going to the Ghibli museum in Mitaka, we took a day trip to Yokohama. Even so, it hit me that because I was unable to get the tickets, my friends and I wouldn’t be going to the Ghibli Museum during the semester. A missed opportunity that would not return unless I came back to visit Japan again. But even then, it’s unlikely we would all be together again. It was that day in Sendagaya that the “mid-program crisis” really took a hold on me, and I realized how little time I had left. Three months felt like it would be a long time back in March, but all that time disappeared in a flash. There is so much to do in Japan… I only wish I had the time to explore even more of it.