I did my fair share of traveling during my first trip. I made it as far as Fukuoka on one day trip, and spent a considerable amount of time hanging out in Kyoto. I even got stuck overnight in the absolute middle of nowhere on two separate occasions after missing the last train home. Nonetheless, the better part of my time in the other country was spent in my “home base” guest house in Tokyo. Not just the majority of the time, mind you, but definitely the better part.
The guest house was the now sadly defunct Yellow Fence of Kami-Igusa. It was a cozy little suburban guesthouse, with all the modern amenities you could hope for. Amenities like…uhhh…electricity! And…um…walls.
Ok, so it wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but the price was right, the location was excellent (more on that later) and it gave me the opportunity to meet all kinds of exciting an interesting people (you know who I’m talking about here). Like many buildings from its era, it lacked central heating or cooling capabilities, but I got used to this soon enough. It only really bothered me because there was no heat of any kind in the bathroom or the hallway leading to the bathroom, so in late February if I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, it was kind of an unpleasant experience. Also, for reasons unknown to me, the only way to adjust the temperature of the water was by using a panel of buttons in the kitchen, which changed the water temperature for every faucet in the building, each of which only had “on” and “off” with no respect for “hot” and “cold”. This was fine for doing dishes, but made showering kind of awkward. Often, while making breakfast, I would hear shrieks of agony calling out from the bathroom and would have to drop what I was doing and adjust the water accordingly.
None of these little inconveniences could compare to my living conditions in Kyoto, but that’s a different story.
Now, as I said, aside from the people I was living with the greatest advantage of the Yellow Fence was the location. Like all points in the greater Tokyo area, it was within walking distance of four or five convenience stores and several dozen well-stocked vending machines. The train was easily accessible, and aside from one obnoxious dog the neighborhood was fairly quiet.
Oh, and it was basically across the street from the Sunrise building.
I swear I didn’t know this when I made my reservation. I picked the place sight-unseen based solely on price and public transportation availability. When I arrived, I took this (along with a string of Maison Ikkoku related coincidences) as a sign of being blessed. And then, of course, I tried to sneak inside.
The building was suitably wonderful and mysterious, and the front entrance (automatic door, unlocked) led into a small lobby area full of Gundam memorabilia and random Cowboy Bebop merchandise. Beyond that was an inner door that led into what appeared to be a magnificently boring office building. Around the other side was a separate part of the building, which looked much less inviting but never seemed to shut down. At any time, day or night, there was always someone coming or going through the rear door. It was clear that this was where the magic happened.
Off to the side from this building was a small parking lot. This was rather amazing, if only because it appeared to be the only building of any kind for at least two square miles that could afford any kind of parking area at all. A small fleet of cars, vans, and motorcycles all proudly emblazoned with the Sunrise logo were always stashed away here.
The first attempt was before Antony had moved in, so it was somewhat amateur. Tora and I wandered inside aimlessly, walked through an open door and up a flight of stairs, then heard someone coming and lost our nerve. We ran back outside with nothing to show for the experience. We actually did this about three times over the course of a few days.
Entering through the back entrance was far too intimidating. It looked like you needed some kind of key card to get through from the outside, but even if the door were open it looked like the entrance led directly to major work area. One step inside would very likely put you directly between two occupied desks, and you would be immediately forced to explain yourself.
After Antony arrived on the scene, the tactics changed considerably. At one point, we were coming home from a night out drinking and Antony made an impromptu effort at climbing up a drainpipe on the back of the building while I fell over into a bush acted as lookout. Antony reportedly made it through a window and into someone’s office, but found nothing interesting and was unable to make any further progress due to the door being mysteriously locked from the outside. He went back out the window and came down the pipe with nothing to show for himself.
Resigned to the unfortunate impossibility of just walking in and out like the wind, we began searching for more subtle ways to gain a foothold. We watched the building intently, looking for some sort of useful information. We watched for any particularly interesting people coming or going at specific times, we tried to figure out which of the local convenience stores the Sunrise folk frequented, and we made an effort to keep watch on what time of day the parking lot seemed the most empty. This was a fun diversion, but it all added up to nothing more than an exercise in futile desperation.
At some point in this process, however, the issue of garbage came up. In an American context, a large office building would invariable have a large blue dumpster stuck behind it. Not so in Japan, where dumpster-sized lots of space are precious and garbage is extremely complex. It made more sense to expect a building that size to just toss its garbage out in bag form on the appropriate days, the same as everyone else in the neighborhood. We watched intently, but each of our garbage days (burnable, unburnable, and “media”) with no sign of motion from the Sunrise building.
Then, one Wednesday morning I was innocently meandering down the road to get breakfast at the local mom & pop taiyaki stand and as I passed Sunrise, there appeared to be some commotion going on around the front entrance. As I got close enough to see, there were two men walking out of the front entrance carrying large bags. The bags were not very large, but were added to a growing pile outside the door made up of at least a couple dozen other bags piled up waist-high outside. Much of it was bags, but a good bit was in cardboard boxes. Along the periphery there were also some bigger-ticket items like a broken chair and what appeared to be the bottom half of a desk lamp. Oh yes, it was trash all right.
They obviously had some kind of special trash arrangement going on, since their trash was out on a day that was not one of our designated trash days. Furthermore, it appeared to be completely unsorted, which is a mortal sin in Japan. Letting any hint of plastic slip in with your burnable trash is met with revolted and indignant horror from your neighbors and local trash collection professionals. It’s basically the same reaction you would get in America if you left a live yak outside and expected the garbage collectors to deal with it.
When the pile was complete, one of the men turned and headed back inside while the other stood watch over the garbage and waited for whatever was supposed to happen to it to happen. I tried to look nonchalant while I loitered far longer than I had any good reason to on the other side of the street. I bought a can of soda from a conveniently placed vending machine, then proceeded to stand there and drink it. The taiyaki shop I was originally heading for was still a block away, and the only store on the stretch of sidewalk I was occupying was a very small antique shop, which was closed. Lacking anywhere convenient to hide, and naturally sticking out due to my gaijin-ness, I resigned myself to just standing around awkwardly and hoping that the remaining Sunrise man would wander off before he noticed me loitering.
As it turned out, luck was on my side. Also, it occurs to me that most rational people, when seeing a person drinking a can of soda on the other side of the street, will not immediately assume that this person is planning to steal their garbage. In any case, the man quickly gave up on waiting for whatever he was waiting for and headed back inside. No sooner had he passed through the door than I chucked my soda can and walked at a brisk pace over to the pile of trash.
Thinking quickly, I grabbed the item that seemed like it had the best ratio of portability to potential payoff and headed back towards my guest house. I considered running, but decided that walking briskly was less likely to attract any attention, and was therefore the superior option. The item I had taken was a moderately sized cardboard box, with no external markings I could make out. It was taped shut, but at the edges it was possible to see what looked like individual sheets of paper stuffed inside. In my mind, the box was full of things like storyboards and character design sheets. Part of me realized how unlikely this was, and that in all probability it was full of old napkins and unreadable shipping invoices, if not just ancient banana peels and used kleenex.
My heart was pounding, and I raced home as quickly as I felt I could without someone noticing. It was a fairly quiet residential neighborhood, and someone (especially a gaijin someone) running at top speed down the street would attract the kind of attention that I would do well to avoid whilst carrying stolen property. I figured that if worse came to worst, I could always play the dumb gaijin card, though.
“Huh? What? No, sorry, I do not speak your language. Oh, whoops. I thought this was my garbage. My mistake. I’m not from around here.”
It would work, too. Antony had taught me that.
Fortunately, no one bothered me between Sunrise and home, and before anyone was the wiser (assuming anyone ever was, which might necessitate having a Sunrise employee whose job involves counting trash) I had made it safely inside the Yellow Fence, and locked the door behind me. I dropped the spoils of my adventure on the kitchen table, retrieved a steak knife and cracked the box open.Inside was more than I would ever have dared to dream. There were REAMS of design sketches. There were storyboards and internal memos and scripts for episodes of Gundam Seed that at the time had not yet aired. There was a cornucopia of internal sunrise documents, many marked with bright red kanji proclaiming that they were NEVER under any circumstances to leave the building or be seen by outsiders. I could not have been happier. The bulk of these pages became permanent additions to our trophy room, but the absolute cream of the crop returned stateside with me.