I’m in Tokyo!
I arrived here after a predictably uncomfortable flight on BA. It was Sunday, and the airport was quiet, as was the public transport on the way into town to meet my friend Rob.
My first impression was that everyone I met was incredibly friendly. They were very tolerant of my non-existent Japanese, and whilst waiting for the train, one of the platform guards noticed me nervously checking the clock and announcement boards to make sure I was going to get on the right train. We exchanged smiles and she bowed at me.
First order of business on arrival was to find my digs for the first night, which was to be a capsule hotel, near Ueno station. The station is vast, but well marked out and I was at my hotel in no time.
And so began my first faux pas of the trip. I walked right up to the reception desk and started to speak, but was then promptly asked to remove my shoes and lock them in a locker. During check-in, the receptionist communicated with me by ticking boxes on a bilingual crib sheet – a great idea and very effective.
The rest of the day was quite a blur, not least because I went through the day in a kind of a narcoleptic haze.
I met Rob at Ueno Station. Rob and I had been in halls together and were later flat mates at University. We hadn’t seen each other in over 12 years. Pretty much immediately, we told each other that we hadn’t changed a bit. Rob has been living in Japan for 10 years or so, and speaks good Japanese.
After a lunch at a chain katsu place, we walked to the Imperial Palace gardens and visited a the Yasukuni Shrine. The Shrine attracts controversy because of the “enshrinement” of those who participated in armed conflict in the service of Japan, including war criminals.
At the shrine was a stage on which there was a traditional theatre show. Completely randomly, a chap came up to us and offered us some gold leaf biscuits. Presumably this was some kind of promotion related to the stage event. After a short conversation with Rob, we all bowed deeply to one another and were on our way.
At this point was was walking and sleeping at the same time. We stopped for a coffee and headed up a skyscraper to an observation deck to see the city. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, this was not a clear day.
Next stop on the tour was the Shinjuku district for a spot of dinner. Rob recommended a Yakiniku place, but there was a long wait time, so we booked a table (under the name of “Robertu”, and then headed across the road to a cybercafe (I needed to book my hotel in Kyoto).
The cybercafe was both fascinating and seedy. Rob and I had just booked a terminal at a desk, but you could also book a cubicle for as long as 9 hours at a time. Rob explained that it was possible to treat a cubicle in a cybercafe as a capsule in a capsule hotel, sleep the night in a reclining chair and then go off to work. Lining the walls were pornographic comics, and from what I could see, whilst some cubicle dwellers were playing video games or just idly surfing the web, others were watching pornographic videos.
Still, I got the hotel in Kyoto lined up, and “Robertu’s” ‘phone rang. It was dinner time – Yakiniku! We got back into the lift and rode up to the top floor to the restaurant. With us in the lift was a young couple. The girl said something to her (presumably) boyfriend. Rob picked up on it immediately and the girl covered her mouth in embarrassment. Rob later explained that the girl was telling her boyfriend that she thought we looked really cool. I wonder what the average Londoner would say about the average tourist (Japanese or otherwise) if they thought they couldn’t be understood?
Yakiniku means “Grilled Meat”. You’re sat at a table with a grill and served marinated raw meat and vegetables with white rice. It was thoroughly delicious.
After dinner, the narcolepsy started hitting me again. I had been awake for 40 hours non stop by this stage and it was time to head to my crashpad for the night – the capsule hotel!