Japan looks different from the sky to anywhere else I’ve ever been. Flying in to Tokyo we came within touching distance of these lumps of forest. I don’t really know how else to describe them. They looked like the heads of broccoli: dense, impenetrable and very, very green.
A-ha. We are in Japan.
I’m rather smug because we navigated the train system like pros, rubbing our very tired eyes in case we were just imagining all the white shirts. Seriously, it’s like one of those kids books where the tops and bottoms of animals/people have been separated so that you have to flip the two halves until you match them up right. Only someone made a mistake and every top is white, no tie, rolled up sleeves.
The Astro Boy theme tune blared out when we arrived at the station. The charming little lad was born here in Takadanobaba, where we’re be staying. (Apparently the locals call it ‘Baba, but I wouldn’t dare.)
Walking out onto the neon street was pretty exciting. I tend to try and be very worldly when I travel, you know, nothing could surprise me in the least. But I just gave in to the daggy grin on my face, because I had just emerged into Jap-furickingu-pan!
Tama Ryokan (a ryokan is like a family inn – they fix up some rooms in their house and let it out) where we’re staying is kind of perfect. It’s got wood frames, paper doors and little vases with clippings of ivy in the oddest places. Eiko, our hostess, was born here.
She was very nice, showing us how everything worked at least 5 times (I do not exaggerate, she is a master of rote learning) in case her English/our thick heads got in the way. By the tenth time she had wiped her mouth with a wet cloth Ken was starting to wonder if she was OCD, but I just put it down to her being Japanese.
I should note here that because this trip is first and foremost a holiday, to which being in Japan comes decidedly second, I have excused myself from being a sensitive traveller. I am not here, I have decided, to understand Japanese culture/compliment the Japanese people by my exulted presence in their company/pretend I’m not a tourist.
What I’m saying is: bring on the generalisations! And it’s quite possible I might have some racist days (the only thing that kept me sane when I lived in Berlin. Nothing vents feelings of isolation quite so well as allowing oneself a whole day to blame those feelings on everything but oneself.). I will also probably visit scandalously few museums and other cultural icons.
Anyway, my tummy is full of ramen, and the lights are out, making our little room feel like nothing so much as a sophisticated tent.