Landing in Tokyo, coming from Hanoi is like jetting in to the future except I was eating noodles en-route not space gel coagulant or wearing a G-suit and helmet. Japan is everything Vietnam isn’t. It’s slick, funky, functional, organised, tidy, clean, polite, well-groomed, well dressed and perfectly turned out. It’s parks and gardens are well tendered and Japanese drivers adhere to road rules. Trains are so incredibly on time that I climbed aboard the wrong one accidentally, assuming that a train scheduled to depart at 3.28 would be sitting at the platform at 3.24 but I was wrong. The 3.24 had to make way for the 3.28 that was belting along at light speed just behind it. Therefore the problem arose that I was on a bullet train that was about to be unleashed into the unknown at a ballistic 280kms and what was I to do?
Easy answer? Get off at the next station, which arrived just before we left the last therefore allowing me to get on to the correct train in the first place.
To say that Tokyo has a myriad of subcultures would be understatement. Everyone knows about the salary men. All dressed immaculately like business clones leaning slightly to the left due to the daily lugging of the essential briefcase/laptop. The same guys that by evening, having worked a 15 hour day lurch around the streets boozed to the bejesus before taking the last train back from whence they came or if too smashed stumbling into a capsule hotel. A capsule hotel resembles tombs stacked layer upon layer closed off with a curtain where the drunken occupant can while away the few hours watching porn on the TV or snoring louder than should be humanly possible.
If you had the yearning to dress up as a tiger, an accident victim, a kewpie doll or a Martian and hang out in public places, move to Tokyo. Harajuku on Sunday is the denizen of the wacky “cos play” folk. Cos play is dressing in a costume hanging out in a public place and being the centre of attention for every camera wielding shutter bug that strolls by. But they are shy creatures the cos play folk and turn away from the lens when approached making the whole thing even weirder to me. Surely if you are disaffected youth or a grown man dressed as a baby it should be something that maybe you should do in private?
If an enormous quiff, black jeans and pointy boots are your thing, hanging out with your mates on Sunday’s dancing to rockabilly tunes belting out of your boom box in the street again Tokyo is the spot. The bigger the quiff the more credibility you seemed to have. The dancing is in earnest as one group tries to out do the other but the poor little stereos really can’t handle the job but it does give the sound an authentic static, distorted racket.
Maybe you just have a fetish for work uniforms – maybe you want to dress as a bus driver, taxi driver, train driver, platform guard, street cleaner, construction worker, shop assistant, policeman, fireman, ticket inspector or security guard? Either you have some kind of Village People type hang up that just can’t be satisfied in your normal day to day environment or you can come to Japan. But you must look immaculate and if possible wear white gloves be courteous and polite.
Japanese men often wear surgical masks, which I imagine is to keep their lungs pollution free, yet they smoke like mallee roots.
School kids are better dressed than most people I know going to a wedding or a funereal.
I was a devil and walked before the little man had turned green, on a street with no traffic. The locals looked at me aghast with pure unadulterated terror.
A rebel in cargo shorts.
I haven’t been able to work out which side of the bike path I should ride on. Cars drive on the left however it’s not that simple. I hired a bike for the day in Hiroshima, Then, I got lost and nearly had a plethora of head ons. It might be the only thing in Japan that is a free form, hot dogging, live on the edge experience that doesn’t cost monumental amounts of money.
Yesterday I stood at the point in Hiroshima where 600 metres above the first atom bomb was detonated instantly vaporizing 220,000 people. Impossible to imagine that things were so bad that it was necessary.
I patted a Siamese cat at the shrine of Fushini Inari in Kyoto. Having passed through the tunnels of orange Torii gates winding through the forest I came upon a lake and there sat the Siamese cat.
I said “Sawadeekrap” but it ignored me. Cats do that.
Maybe it really was a Nipponese cat. I should have said “Konnichiwa” or at least “Hello Kitty”.
I have been on standard local trains, trains that go so fast they peel the skin off puddles of paint, I have journeyed up a mountain on a switchback railway, then crawled further up the slope in a funicular, plummeted down the other side in a gondola all the while chatting to a Japanese family who had never in their lives seen Mt Fuji. So, I pointed at it. They were surprised to say the least.
I was taken captive aboard a pirate ship for a journey across a lake. I met Cap’t Jack Sparrow in Tokyo. I saw a sumo on a train.
He looked like a fat bloke with a dodgy hairstyle in a bathrobe.
I have sat naked in a traditional hot spring with another bloke. I didn’t feel very relaxed nor comfortable it was bizarre and hot. I left him broiling and scampered away.
Beer is available from vending machines and they perch themselves conveniently on every hotel floor, on trains, station platforms, street corners and hot springs. About the only places I haven’t seen them is at shrines or temples. However, when you step outside the formal grounds there they are, waiting, lurking, tempting.
Restaurants don’t put menus out the front for you to peruse they have plastic versions of the food on display. I’d like to throw a dinner party and just serve plastic food and whack a beer vending machine in the corner.
Tonight, I chose my noodles from a picture board. I had to determine which number corresponded with the Japanese writing and this took quite awhile. So long in fact my money kept getting spat back out at me in robotic disgust. Finally, I put my money successfully in the slot and was issued a ticket. I then handed the coupon to a waitress. It was then I realised I also wanted a drink but didn’t have the patience or the desire to go through that experience a second time.
The noodles were very good but not as good as Vietnamese pho and 10 times the price but the restaurant was clean and the staff well dressed.
Today I saw a group of kids in a schoolyard aged about 8 all riding unicycles.
At train stations the gentle sounds of birds twittering is very subtly piped onto the platforms, barely discernible but just enough to drive you insane.
Many women still wear kimonos whilst out and about. They look elegant and traditional. But then they have to take very, very tiny steps, incredibly Japanese.
I read that samurai weren’t quite as macho as I imagined. It is said that due to the fact they needed to adhere to “bushido” the way of honour they were required to shun women and therefore kept the company of males – if you know what I mean. I still don’t believe it. Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I am burying my head in the sand on this topic. Shintaro was not gay.
And I also gleaned that in the days of the samurai their lips moved in time with their speech.
Many older women have a similar hairstyle to the Queen of England.
Japan has ryokans, traditional inns, all futons, sliding panels and sashimi chefs. This country is punctuated by large 3, 4 and 5 star hotels, standing tall and proud like exclamation marks. But the Japanese are very pleased with their “Love Hotels.” Generally baroque style monstrosities, that couples can use for a “little lie down” for 1 – 3 hours.
Better not be any samurai in there with their katanas out unless they’re relishing feminine charms or slashing evil ninja foe.
When I return to Hiroshima I am going to the baseball to see the Hiroshima Carp play. Not the Sharks, nor even the Piranhas or the Killer Whales. No, they went with good old carp. But in a place where English spelling mistakes are common one letter out of place could prove less than fortuitous for this team.
If you have the desire for a cigarette outside you must stand at a designated place so you don’t harm others. Or, you can go into a restaurant, café or the smoking car on the train where apparently an invisible force field protects non-smokers from second hand smoke. I am sitting in a café at a non-smoking table – the man next to me is up to his 3rd cigarette in 10 minutes in the smoking section, which is situated 30 cm away from the non-smoking area.
No harm shall come to me for I am protected.
Every person who enters or leaves a restaurant gets a “hello” and a “see you again.” I have been ninja like and slipping in before they have a chance to notice me. It confuses the hell out of the staff.
The hotel I am staying at in Shinagawa Tokyo has an aquarium, not a fish tank, a large auditorium complete with a dolphin show.
One of the people on my trip told me it is possible to arrange a tour of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the residence of the Emperor so I made enquiries via the information desk at the hotel. I managed to get one of the girls to translate the request for me. All seemed to be going well.
They explained to her what I needed to do which in the end meant by 4.00pm today I had to get to a particular gate and once there I would be issued the passes for the following morning. To make this happen I needed to take all the group’s passport details and my own actual passport. So, I caught a train from Shinagawa to Tokyo and then walked to the area of the Palace. I was directed in a convoluted yet pleasant fashion to the correct gate where I was immediately confronted by the police.
Once I had made my intentions clear they walked me to the guardroom. After a very prolonged conversation in broken English (theirs, not mine) and a thorough look at my passport, I was asked if I was an American, which seemed odd as it is quite obviously an Australian passport.
Then I was seriously asked if I was a spy.
Tricky question this one.
If you are a spy, I’m pretty sure somewhere in the spy training manual it tells you when pressured with intense interrogation the cunning spy answers with a resounding yet incredulous “No!” But then if you are not a spy you would also say “no” in a bemused yet disbelieving manner therefore either way things could get grim and a just a little twisted. At this point a Japanese gentleman whose English was reasonable came to my aid. He delayed his own appointment to help.
The policeman by now had a very keen interest in my passport and through my new translator buddy it was explained to me that there would be no way I would get in to the Imperial Palace as I was obviously a communist having spent so much time in Vietnam.
How about that? An American, a spy and a communist! End result? I was asked to leave, there would be no tour and if I wasn’t careful I was going to be cuffed and taken down to the police station. So I made a hasty retreat before my smart alec mouth said something that would get us both in trouble. My lips were quivering with a whole bunch of cutting retorts, insulting insinuations and historical facts but my legs got smart and got my mouth out of there. I just love it when my body’s individual components work as a team.
That was 3 hours of a day I’ll never get back yet at the same time it was sort of fun having a heated discussion at the gates of the Japanese Imperial Palace and being accused of all manner of things.
Before that we visited the substantial and famous Tsukijishijo fish market and watched 300kg tuna get chopped up by band saws like fishy timber, sliced and diced, hacked and carved and the giant’s heads chucked in to the nearest rubbish bin.
I saw eels gutted and skinned alive their heads nailed to a board during the whole process. Their eyes were still alight well after everything had been removed. Disturbing stuff indeed.
If fish had cinemas this place would be a horror film. Of course all of it would be filmed gritty, close up and to scale probably with a fish eye lens I imagine.
Now, back to subcultures.
Whilst strolling around Akihabara, the electronics precinct girls dressed as French maids were handing out flyers for cafes so, being of an inquisitive mind I somehow managed to convince 2 chaps on my tour to join me at one of these establishments. Without a moments hesitation they agreed. So we availed ourselves at one of the many Maid Cafes that populate the area.
Ushered in we were seated at a table that was made to look like an office desk. This was next to a table made to look like a picnic scene which was next to one that represented a doctors surgery. Immediately our maid handed us the rules and regulations stating inappropriate behaviour would not be tolerated nor would questions about the establishment or were you to make suggestive remarks or try to procure any kind of sexual liaisons with the staff. Though you could ask your waitress to change in to another costume to wait on you.
You had to buy something within every 60 minutes either to eat or drink and the fee for entering was quite expensive. The place we entered was populated by 3 bored looking guys reading books or the paper. Suffice it to say we weren’t maid men and we left.
Next stop on Adam’s lewd tour of Tokyo was a fetish DVD store. Up 5 floors we ascended into a place that makes Blockbuster look a little light on for movies. The three of us wandered around trying to find the oddest DVD. In our quest we discovered films where fully clothed women eat cake from atop each other’s head. Or there was the film where ladies in business attire impale cockroaches with the heel of their stilettos. Another was all about men and women sticking inflated balloons up their shirts. But my favorite was when fully clothed women sit on food and the photography is done from underneath a glass top table. So, not finding anything peculiar I asked the guy behind the counter where he kept the weird shit.
Oh how we laughed!
From there it was back on to the street and before too long we stumbled across a petting shop. This is a place one can go to if you have a need to stroke a pussy. I opened the door to find men in business attire patting cats, all manner of cats from Burmese to your stock standard Tabby.
You pay by the hour.
By now the day was drawing to a close and the rain was looming. We tried to make a dash back to the station but the heavens split open and down she came but there was one more surprise to come. We ducked into a shop only to be surrounded by a complete arsenal. You name it they had it. Pistols right through to rifles, sub machine guns to heavy machine guns all on sale and all just hanging on walls. Thank God they were all imitation weapons but they looked as real as any gun I have ever seen and sure would do the trick if you had the intention of holding up the local 7/11. We scrammed quick smart before some Yakuza gangbanger arrived looking to tool up and headed for the station.
Now I know I have only scratched the surface of the bizarre that lurks in every corner of Tokyo but that’s what keeps people coming back, you never know what might be just around the corner or available at the next vending machine.