July 24 2009
Tokyo is hot. Mind achingly, sweating in all places, I just want to be naked, h.o.t.
Not that the Japanese seem to notice. Really, I don’t know how they do it! We can be in a subway station praying the train arrives soon so we can crisp in the freezing cold air-con, meanwhile there’s men looking comfortable in suits, women with long sleeves, jeans and doc martins, kids in hoodies. How is it possible?!
Oh but the rain! The rain is sweet relief!
Today it has rained, no, tsunamied from the sky for about three minutes every couple of hours. It toys with you. The heat builds and builds until you think you’re going to pass out it’s so hot, then the heavens open briefly, then the cycle continues and you’re begging for rain and it’s oooo soooo wonderful. Ok, I’m being incredibly British right now- I’m practically on the moon and all I can talk about is the weather! So today was our first day in the big city and as we ate brekkie in our cute little hostel communal area we realized we had no plan. But, influenced by all the chattering and swapping of stories going on around us in several languages (Nic’s a bit of a language genius) we came to the conclusion that all places that started with the letter S sounded like good starting points!
However, getting there is another issue. Have you ever seen the subway map for Tokyo?
Well, it’s like the city planners gave a piece of paper and a few coloured pens to a small child and based their designs on its scribbles. And I thought London could sometimes be a bit tricky! It doesn’t help of course that only the odd place name is in English, it means you have to resort to lots of map spinning and counting and ‘ok see if you can find the sign that looks a bit like a teapot, I think that’s where we want to go’.
Anyway, one lovely old man later and we’ve found a train to Shibuya, home of the crazy crossing, the young and hip and all that makes Japan mental. It did not disappoint. We walked the narrow streets flanked with neon signs, music blaring from shops, refreshing wafts of air-con, moving adverts on the buildings, men in blue uniforms directing traffic, a sea of umbrellas occasionally blooming then disappearing with the flow of the weather, and we were mesmerized.
We went in Tokyu Hands, a shop that literally has everything in it, from some rather nifty looking laboratory equipment to a money box with a face on it that eats your coins and poos them out when you want them back. We went in a Disney shop complete with its own spiral staircase tower. We got coerced into a gangsta shop by a guy on the street recruiting shoppers…that was fairly amusing. We stumbled upon the best art exhibition I have ever been to in the basement of a theatre on the outskirts. It was all optical illusion and interesting composition don’t you know. It was nice to get away from the city rush for a while and enjoy some more constructive insanity. Though I must admit, the umbrella lockers outside the entrance put me in a pretty hypa mood, so I’d have probably enjoyed anything! Seriously, they’re incredible.
I think if you haven’t clicked an umbrella into place, then you just haven’t lived.
We had a ‘point to some Japanese word and see what you get’ dinner which went surprisingly well then we made our way to the Meiji-Jingu shrine for some enlightenment time. Now we have seen a fair load of shrines and temples and stuff in our three weeks, but for some reason I just really like this one. I think it might be because it’s in the middle of a city and when you go there by comparison it seems all the more serene and peaceful. I like that it’s not gaudy and brash like some, but wooden and calm. The prayers are all hung around the bottom of a big old tree; people get a little block of wood and write on it whatever they wish. Some are prayers. Some are life mantras. Some are just kind words. They’re in all languages and hung 6 deep on pegs that surround the tree and they’re so amazing to read. Some are truly poetic and heartfelt and I just couldn’t help joining in. It might be corny, but I think there’s something beautiful about hanging your hopes under a tree.
So naturally the next place beginning with S was Shinjuko. Now we had obviously read about it being noisy and crazy in the evening so we were heading there for dinner…an hour or so later and we still hadn’t made it, but instead appeared to have wondered into a local community festival/fate thing. This was well worth getting lost for…a little garden full of lanterns and tori gates and food cooking on big hot plates and music and games and little girls in kimonos…we looked well out of place. We took refuge over a chocolate milkshake and tried to understand how Shinjuko had suddenly become Notting Hill- a kind Englishman who lived in the area, told us, between laughs, that we had walked in completely the wrong direction and we were in some obscure area that did most definitely not start with the letter S. Sweet.
When we finally get to Shinjuko we are starved, overwhelmed and slightly angry at the nice Englishman for sending us into another dimension. I have never been anywhere so thoroughly mindboggling. It makes New York look like Blackpool! There is such an atmosphere here…I can’t even put into words what it’s like. Just signs and noise and music and people and boy bars, girl bars, cafes open to the street, beer, gambling, clubs and so many different smells. It’s intense. We both had splitting headaches by the end of the night.
But then help came in the form of a rather odd fellow from Nigeria who was recruited to get people into a club.
JT: What you looking for girls? We got it all here. Soul, funk, hip-hop, dance. Name your tunes.
JT: I know just the place, follow me!
So here our knight in shining armor takes us to a restaurant where they serve a variety of meats, including pig rectum, chicken neck and cow aorta…what a saviour! To get rid of the dude I had to give him my number and promise to hit up his club when were done eating some un-mentionable meat…which if I had eaten and gone to his club, would have probably have ended up on his floor… Instead we opted to break his heart, scoff curry and stumble home for sleep… besides the club didn’t have an S anywhere in it!