Monday, June 02, 2008

The long one about Tokyo

I had been told to expect culture shock. Japan after all is Asian in mind and deed, insular and yet modern, but this is a creeping type of culture shock. You don’t experience it all at once, it seeps into you slowly. Rather than the freezing cold shock of ice cubes down the back of your shirt, it is the dropping of the temperature as you move into the frozen waste lands. Things are obviously dissimilar, the signage is difficult to read, the land smells different, the usual becomes slightly more difficult than normal but Tokyo is a city, and you know the way that a city works. They are the same all over the world. But after a time you realise that Tokyo is different - very, very different.

First the expected. Tokyo at night is (and I know that this is almost a cliché) the city of Bladerunner. The soft rain, neon lights pulsating, smoke filled bars up hidden stairs. It is as if you’ve stepped through the screen right into Deckard’s world, a land of replicants and off world colonies. It’s beautiful and raw, with the thrill of possibility around every corner. But you were anticipating that, you’ve seen the pictures, you know what to expect.

Day time Tokyo is just as thrilling, but in a calming, clean and polite way. I’ve always thought of cities as dirty, angry places. All those people living cheek by jowl with all the rubbish, noise and pollution spilling out onto the streets, but it would appear not so in Tokyo. With a population of 12 billion they have created a city that is clean and polite, that embraces the future whilst heeding the past. People are courteous and kind, get out a map and look vacant (something I’m good at) and within seconds a helpful local will point you in the right direction. Perhaps it’s because the Japanese have created a city that works. In our two week holiday I did not see a train that was late, an electric door that didn’t fail to open, a ticket barrier that did not work, or a toilet seat that wasn’t gently warmed electronically. I didn’t see rubbish on the floor, wanton vandalism, or any signs of aggression. Either Tokyo works in ways that we at home can and will never understand or else Tokyo has a dark, misshapen portrait in its own attic.

We stayed in the plush Park Hotel in a new-ish district called Shiodome (pronounced shi-oh-dom-ee). The hotel staff were brilliant, attentive but knowing when to give you space. The hotel was immaculately kept and wonderfully situated. If you go I can’t recommend it enough. Around Shiodome you have everything you need. The area is ultra modern with underground, over ground and monorail trains next to the hotel. Every type of restaurant you want is within walking distance; from the Japanese salary man barbecue pits to high class (with great views) restaurants. I had the best Italian meal outside of Italy ever in a purpose built Italian section of the city behind our hotel.
We visited like crazy – Imperial parks, museums of the future, Buddhist temples and Shinto (fascinating religion) shrines. We saw Mount Fuji (which is not as easy at it sounds) and failed to see a massive waterfall. We rode the famous bullet trains and drank in the same bar as Bill Murray, and we ate and ate and ate…

The highlight for me was learning a few Samurai sword moves from Tetsuro Shimaguchi, the head choreographer in the swordfight scene in the snowy garden in “Kill Bill: Volume One” (he played the role of Crazy 88 (Miki) in the film). Apparently I’m a natural, but I think he says that to everyone. I have a film on VHS of me and Madame Vin that I’ll get copied to the blog as soon as it is on disc and then you can make your own decision.

So that’s it, holiday over, but I will definitely be going back to Tokyo - I don’t know when buts it’s on my radar. For now it’s back to work and finishing off ‘Dark Father’.

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