It will come as no surprise to you that I absolutely love Tokyo already. This is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to. It’s the future, I’ve tasted it.
Traffic is silent. There’s loads of people and it has city hustle and city bustle but it’s somehow really quiet. The shops have lights and music and colour everywhere but it is in no way overbearing. The trains are an absolute doddle to use, mainly because signs are handily also in English. It’s a nation of cat lovers and there are loads of cat cafes in Tokyo. Everything works. People are so kind and respectful. The toilets have mood lighting and heated seats. In the little I’ve travelled about so far, the whole city has a hum almost as if it’s meditating. They’ve basically just smashed it on life. Although I really could have lived in Addis quite happily. I really did put on weight there though so I would have had to have joined a gym. Or just not eaten 10 tonnes of enjera every meal.
After intermittent, if at all, internet access in Africa for 3 months, I can’t get away from WiFi in Tokyo. I’m worried – in Africa I didn’t have a lot of inexpensive access to hot showers, the internet, toilet roll and new socks, and here all 4 are in abundance and I absolutely love it. Maybe I’m not African after all. Speaking of WiFi – I’ll be adding all those missing pictures to the previous posts.
I had a whirlwind last 24 hours in Ethiopia, having spent just short of 3 months in Africa. It is just my luck that on the last night I met a girl I connected with in a way that I haven’t connected with anybody for a long time. She is absolutely cosmic and looked at me like nobody has done for years. Why did I have to meet her on the last day? I seriously considered staying in Addis, it was that strong. If I’d met her any sooner I would probably have stayed.
Edom and I had another night out to mark the last day of my 3 months in Africa. She is so cool and I’ll miss being around her. She can do anything. I told her about my Rasta trip and how they were all a bit guarded. “Why didn’t you phone me in Shashemane? I’m pissed at you. You know Edom knows everything, I could have hooked you up with my Rasta friend”. Said with a straight face because she really does know everything.
We went to a bar called Ha Geez, which in Portsmouth is “that is funny mate”, so I was intrigued to see what it was like. It’s this cool outside bar and was the first of a series of Old Skool Hip Hop nights with a DJ. He played some belters but it was actually 90% RnB, which I love a touch more than Hip Hop, so that was great. After working as an Audio Analyst for 3 months in 2016, I know my Rare Groove from my RnB from my Old Skool Hip Hop. Yeah I’m really fun at parties aren’t I guys. Guys. Guys? Guys!!
We then headed off to a house party round the corner but we were a bit early so it took an hour to get going, but going it got. After chatting to random Americans in the kitchen, I then met Hanna, a Tigray Ethiopian (Tigrays have the best Shiro) who immediately looked at me with those eyes and made my heart flutter. The two blokes she was talking to left as soon as I entered their circle but I didn’t even notice. We basically then became inseparable until I left Ethiopia 18 hours later. Typical really.
Ethiopian Christmas Day is the 7th of January and I had a family Christmas meal round Hanna’s. Her sister Kidist, or ‘cookie’ because it’s easier to say (the ‘k’ sound sort of comes from the back of your throat like it is trying to escape from your mouth), only just moved back home after 4 years in London, so I got on with her too. All over Addis the day before and morning of Christmas, there are cows, goats and sheep being sold, dragged or carried around the streets. A family will buy one, or two, and slaughter one Christmas morning before cooking and eating it that day. A second one, if bought, is kept in the garden and killed a week later. An Ethiopian Christmas dinner is basically just meat, enjera and a lump of cottage cheese. It’s historically not that common to have the ‘luxury’ of eating meat so a big point of it is made over the festive season. There is a fasting season before Christmas, with 3 types of fasting – go vegan; only eat after midday; or only eat after 3pm. Most people go vegan and whole fasting days are Wednesday and Friday, where all the restaurants only serve vegetarian grub. For the Christmas dinner they do all sorts to whatever animal is killed – raw, minced, fried, cooked – and I had some because I didn’t want to rock up at someone’s house and refuse their meal. I always feel really guilty though. Ethiopians fast for something like 250 days of the year. It was lovely to have an Ethiopian Christmas Day with a family, even though I’d only met Hanna 10 hours previously. I so nearly stayed when it was time to go.
My flight to Tokyo, via Hong Kong, left Christmas night and went fairly quickly. The first part was 9 and a half hours and I didn’t even get up during it. Just lolled my head about and slept. The food on Ethiopian Airlines is absolutely appalling. I wouldn’t give it to a dog. When I was awake I listened to a The Who Best Of and watched the Absolutely Fabulous film. It’s daft and quite funny, but the plane landed 20 minutes before the end so I’ve no idea what happened. Jennifer Saunders has always been great.
We landed and I got the train from the airport to Asakusa, where my hostel is. This is a very cool area – kind of like Soho/Leicester Square I suppose, but not nearly as mad busy. It’s definitely a downtown part of Tokyo where things happen. There are 1500 year old Buddhist temples, tall buildings and endless, endless shops and restaurants. I’m a city type; I revel in cities and find vast open spaces leave me very cold. This place is just perfect for me.
On my first day, which was a national holiday in Japan called ‘Coming of Age Day’, for everybody who has recently turned 20, to match the beautiful kimonos people wore around town, I bought a lovely new jumper and some new socks from Rox, a large department store next door to the hostel. It’s great in there and sells everything. As I’d missed Christmas at home I needed to get my own new socks, so it was the first thing I did. And my, was it exciting.
My first day was also my first rehearsal with Banda Girassol. It is an all female Samba Reggae bloco, apart from some guest husbands, and a lovelier group of people you could not wish to meet. Seriously, any words I write will not do them justice at all. They are so kind, friendly, welcoming, lovely, and what’s more, they are a bloody good band too. Thanks to Youtube, their repertoire is like a ‘Best Of’ of Samba Reggae tunes from the 90s onwards. They’re very much a modern Samba Reggae band in what they play. They’ve got tunes, breaks and arrangements from Ile Aiye, Cortejo Afro, Dida, Olodum, and even some bloody Batala breaks in there. They do one tune, Aje Um Bo, which was on the Batala album we did, so I spent an hour or so running through the London arrangement as requested. It was kind of odd teaching it cos I left Batala over a year ago but it was nice to teach that arrangement again, given that Batala was my number 1 priority for so many years. They have two singers, one of which, Yuko, sang over loads of arrangements for most of rehearsal. It was great fun. They have a really big show on February the 11th so are rehearsing hard for that. Should be a belter and it’s a shame I can’t see it.
We went out for some proper Japanese food after rehearsal. The courses didn’t stop coming for ages. I love the togetherness of eating food in so many cultures outside of Britain. It’s something that should be shared, and eating loads of little things for a longer time is a good way to do dinner too.
The group are all so lovely. I can’t stress that enough! They wrote me a list of things to see and do, got me a Tokyo Suica card (Oyster card) and generally had a very merry time. I hope I can cram everything in on the list. Their next rehearsal is on Sunday and I can’t wait to see them all again. Ana, a dobra player who is from south Brasil (sort of Porto Alegre way) but is half Japanese and lives in Tokyo, speaks great English and will take me to see some sights tomorrow. She’s DJing in the evening too, so that will be great.
Over dinner they showed me the band that the husbands have formed. Banda Girassol means ‘Sunflower Band’ in Portuguese, so the husbands formed their own Samba Reggae band called ‘Banda Tulipa’. But that’s not it – they all perform the set in drag.
I love that.
One of the members of Tulipa, Mayumi’s husband Atsuo, goes by the name of ‘Romi’, which I think means overtone. He was with us for rehearsal and dinner. He can do this weird Mongolian high pitched drone thing with his throat and wiggles his glasses at the same time. It’s the best most pointless talent I’ve seen and I could not stop laughing at it.
I headed back to the hostel and with all this WiFi about I found the David Bowie – The Last Five Years documentary online and watched that, as I try and adjust my body clock. It’s very easy to canonise people in death but he really was different. People spoke about him like that when he was alive. It’s a good documentary and considering his last interview was what, 2003 or something, it manages to paint great pictures using him speaking and playing his isolated vocals. Featured are all the collaborators he worked with – he was fantastic at finding people to work with who could bring the best out of his initial ideas. I love the way he released his music in his last years – by complete surprise and on his birthday. He subverted everything, always. In a world of so much information, especially online and the total lack of secrecy and privacy, he went the exact opposite way to great effect. Tony Visconti said it – even his death was a work of art. It seems mad that it was a year ago now. The ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition hit Tokyo last week. I missed it the first time so I’m going there ASAP.
Today I went to the oldest Temple in Tokyo, Senso-Ji. It’s round the corner from the hostel and a real tourist trap. There are shops around it selling all sorts of cliched Japanese stuff. The sign by the gate says that two fisherman brothers, in the Sumida River, found a gold statue of boddhisattva Kannon in the year 628. The chief of the village, on the site that would become Tokyo, morphed his house in to a Shrine so villagers could come and worship Kannon.
The grounds have burial sites of various important figures from a very, very long time ago, and the classic beautiful Japanese trees, water and Koi. As a kid I was always obsessed with ponds and fountains so Japan is a great place to come for that inner child that still exists and can watch fountains forever.
There was a service on so you couldn’t go inside the Temple itself, but there was a pool of money at the entrance that crowds of people were throwing coins in to and praying. I threw some Yen in and spoke to Buddha. He seemed happy – he’d just bought new socks as well.
Being right in the middle of it all in Asakusa, there are other temples to see so expect more pictures of gorgeous old Buddhist and Shinto sites. I’ll ask the others if there’s a time to go when it is quieter and not so full of tourists. It seems silly me saying that, because what am I, but I do tend to feel like I am ‘living’ in these countries I’m visiting.
I also went to two cat cafes today. A phenomenon that I think started in Tokyo, you are asked to buy one drink and then just spend an hour knocking about with cats. It’s brilliant. There are Tabbies and fluff balls and Felixes and shy gingers and boisterous white tom cats.
This one even had a bed. He was bopped by another cat a bit later and I caught a bit of his fuming reaction.
They have 2 in London I think but they’re really expensive and were booked up for weeks when I looked last. For cat lovers, it’s the best therapy though, even if you don’t need any therapy-ing. Obviously as you enter it really smells of cats but to me it reminds me of home because Mum and I used to have 5 of them. The first cafe I went to is in Asakusa and the 2nd cafe is 2 miles away, so I got a walk in too. Walking and cats makes for a perfect Liam day.
I wrote a few posts back, I can’t remember who or what or where, that something had managed to successfully act out the book ’10 things Liam most hates’. I think it might have been my last day in Nigeria? Anyway, there’s a sister book called ’10 cosmic things Liam most loves’. So far, it’s basically just Tokyo. Cats, women, drums, walks, a meditating city, food everywhere, friendliness, delicious chocolate teddy bear snacks… you name it. Tokyo makes the most wonderful first impression.
The main word here I keep thinking of is ‘respect’. The people are so respectful of each other and the environment. In walking, getting the train and going about the city, I have only seen 1 piece of litter, which I picked up and put in a nearby bin. The city is so clean and neat and tidy. I love the buildings here – there is no thread to the architecture, other than ‘just be quite tall please’. John Rogers in his topography writing of London taught me to look up whenever I go for a walk and it’s such a good tip. The buildings in Asakusa and the surrounds are all tall and there’s so much to see when looking up.
So, Tokyo is really quite alright then so far. Tonight I am off to a nearby Brasilian restaurant with a Samba de Roda on. Brasil and Japan have been linked for years, with thousands of Brasilians in Japan and vice-versa. I think it was an old Portuguese trade link but I’d have to look it up. I’m knackered from the time difference but there is so much to see here, sleep can wait.