Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
Up at 6am and out for a walk by the river and some people watching. Then a Japanese breakfast. Grilled fish, rice, miso soup plus a soft poached egg in broth (avoid) and unspeakable cold fried ball of stuff all served with grapefruit and a salad. Weird but good. Then I met Nagi my guide. Nice girl in her late twenties and we headed off for Meji Shrine. Took the metro which was fast clean, air-conditioned and immaculate. The shrine is down a long path through a wood where each tree was donated by local people and is deeply restful especially as the trees block some of the heat and sunlight. The temple was so hot it was unreal. 40 % humidity and over 90 degree temperature. Had an essential bottle of water and headed for Taskiste street (sp?) full of teenage fashion. More like Hello Kitty meets Goth/punk/bondage.
Japanese fashion is fascinating. Older men wear suits, usually dark grey with white shirts and ties. Young men dress like West Coast wannabees in printed t-shirts and trainers but it women’s fashion that is the most exciting and often bizarre. There is a strange undercurrent of paedophilia apparent at first sight. Some girls, up to the age of twenty, will dress as school girls with knee-high socks and tartan skirts. In fact, dressing up as younger girls even extends to Maid Cafes, where adults and kids go to have coffee served by young women dressed like fifteen year old girls. However, this being Japan it is all extremely innocent and the ‘girls’ will sing children’s songs to you and have their photograph taken with you. They also dress up as French maids. At this point my brain exploded as so often happens here. Tokyo is both like New York and the seventh moon of Zarquon B at the same time. Just when you think you understand how it works a little thing come of left field to blow your mind. For example, touching money is a social faux-pas. When you pay for things in shops, however trivial the amount, you place the money in a tray and your change is returned the same way. I was mildly rebuked in a supermarket for offering money directly and in restaurants your bill is always placed facedown so as not to offend you.
Then to the Imperial Palace which was gruelling. All you can see is the bridge but the heat was unbearable. Thankfully Nagi was suffering as badly as I was, so we crossed to Tokyo station which was more like a high end mall and had some fantastic unagi (eel), green tea and as much water as I could decently put away. Then cruised a supermarket which was fascinating. Like every country, Japan welcomes new food sensations, curry is big but strangely Germany seems to be a new culinary influence which is bizarre. I saw Wurst in a supermarket and even for breakfast at the hotel, not to mention frankfurters and spatlese and weiss beer at £10 a pint in a Bavarian bar. Most mind-blowing of all was a fast food shop selling frankfurter with curry sauce in a naan bread. The mind reels, whatever next? Thai prawn macaroni? Borcht and Yorkshire puddings? Maybe sashimi and chips.
Then on the train to Akiabara, home of all things electronic. It didn’t blow my mind; yes the scale was insane but it was more rather than different. Then took the metro back to the hotel and relaxed for an hour before heading off to Ginza for some shopping. Ginza is Fifth Ave meets Blade Runner; a relentless blend of designer shops and high end Japanese department stores. Found a beautiful card and paper shop which sold hand printed wrapping paper which was gorgeous and then to Matsuzakaya for some clothes for Elly. My wife is slim but Japanese women are really, really small. I was looking for trousers and saw waist sizes at 24 inches and below.
Went to Muji in the basement of Matsuzakaya and for the first time understood that it is a Japanese Habitat. We see it as trendy and cutting edge, in Tokyo it is just cheap, modern home ware and clothes. Then back to Asakusa for dinner in a local sushi bar. The high spot was an old guy and a tattooed hooker having dinner. They ate at the counter, drank sake from a private bottle, smoked and never paid when they left. By the look of the reception they received they ran the local protection. Yakusa and ‘chop off your finger’ was on everyone’s minds. I naturally sat right next to then being an ignorant Gaijin and when the waiter offered me another stool the old boy just waived him away. Does this make me a made-man in Tokyo? Am I now running Asakusa-crome 4? Are you going to show me some respect Gaijin?
Then exhausted decided to stop at a supermarket. Like everyone else, I love other peoples supermarkets, the thrill of the unusual, the smells and unfamiliar jars and packets. Shopping in Tokyo is unlike anything else. In most places you understand when you’re in the tea and coffee isle or cleaning products. I couldn’t tell if I was buying orange juice or chilled miso soup, rice crackers or stock cubes, chewing gum or condoms. After twenty minutes I scored a victory. Jelly beans (or supositories only time will tell), pink grapefruit juice and a bottle of green liquid that was either green tea or mouthwash. I’m no longer thirsty and my breath is unusually fresh.