A fabulous few days in Nagoya with the Miuras, Akiko, Koji and Naoyuki, who can lay claim to absolutely being the most generous family on the planet. What I said in my last post about balance – some good, some bad and all that – well things always even themselves out too. What I lost through robbery in Nigeria, through lily-livered naivety in Africa not saying no to people enough, and the current crap £, I have made up for completely by spending a few days in Nagoya with them. Like an offside goal that goes against you in a football game, you can be sure one will go your way a few weeks later. I’m blown away by their generosity.
I got the coach down to Nagoya from Tokyo, munching my way through a FamilyMart sandwich and some chocolate koala bears. The journey took 4 and a half hours because we had two half an hour stops at service stations. As it got dark and we arrived, I hopped off and put my bag down to hear a shout of ‘Liam’, and was immediately whisked off in a Lexus to a lovely restaurant. We ordered delicious grub and discussed plans for the week – to do a little Nagoya sightseeing, to spend a day in Kyoto, to eat lots, to go to an onsen, and to visit the 1 record shop in the world where Dom’s old band Sunset Cinema Club has their album for sale. My favourite tune on the album is coincidentally the one with the Japanese title.
The Japanese way of saying names is to add ‘chan’ or ‘san’ after, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard ‘Domi-chan’ this week. He visited with Aya a few years back and I think he was taken to many of the same places as I was. It’s quite funny when one of the 8 words you understand is the repeated use of your friend’s name.
I’ve known Aya for coming on for 10 years now and her parents, Mum Akiko and Dad Koji, usually visit London once a year, so I know them a little bit. We always have a lovely evening in London when they come over and it was so great to go to Nagoya and see them. They are both classicly Japanese, with astounding generosity, spiritual kindness and a desire for everything to be exact. I think Koji is Nagoya born and bred and Akiko comes from Shizuoka, which is about an hour away on the Shinkansen, the bullet train. Their eldest Hiro lives in Utah with a young son Yuki; Aya’s in London with Domi-chan and youngest son Naoyuki, who is only 2 weeks younger than me, lives at home and works at the family business, which is right opposite the house. I think it’s a timber supplier and in the factory is loads of timber planks, fork lift trucks and staff, with the office space above. And that is the Miura family history!
Nagoya is a large port city, the 4th most populated city in Japan but 3rd biggest, and an English equivalent I suppose would be Birmingham or Bristol. It looks more like Birmingham but by the sea. Being a port town, it’s a manufacturing and shipping hub, and also the home of Toyota and a pinball game called Pachinko (very popular in Japan). People think of it as overshadowed by Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, but Nagoya is really cool.
I managed to get my body clock to Japan time this week, which is good. I’ve slept like a log all week. It’s been bloody freezing – sometimes it peaks at 10 degrees in the day but it’s mainly been hovering down the very low numbers all week. I quite like it actually. I look better in more clothes than I do in t-shirt and shorts. Nobody needs to see those pasty legs.
Much like a family home, as soon as I arrived, Akiko whisked my clothes off for a wash, even though I’d done them all in the hostel 4 days previously. They hadn’t dried when we needed to leave the house the next morning so I was half dressed in Koji’s clothes when we went for lunch. That evening we went to UniQlo where they bought me new underwear and a new coat. The new socks have new friends! ‘Put old in dust box!’ Akiko exclaimed. But I managed to save all my current underwear from being scrapped – including my Space Invaders boxers that Akiko insisted she sewed back together. I’ve christened my new boxers my ‘Japants’.
Our day in Kyoto was great. We crammed in so much, somehow. Kyoto for hundreds of years was the capital of Japan, before a late 19th century relocation to Tokyo (at a similar time that Addis became capital of Ethiopia). Kyoto is steeped in history, with beautiful temples and shrines everywhere, old buildings next to modern and tourists everywhere. I think Geishas come from Kyoto too. There were mainly tourists from other Asian countries – lots of Chinese people and lots of Filipino people, with a few Americans sprinkled on top.
We first went to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is gorgeous and has been a popular destination since about the year 800. It had snowed a few days ago and it’s mostly gone in Nagoya, but there’s still a layer on the buildings and ground in Kyoto. The Bamboo Grove looked great in the snow.
Also looking great in snow was Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple.
It’s beautiful round there, even with tourists everywhere you look. All the temples built on that exact site under that name have been lost over time, including one being burnt down by a fanatic monk. The current incarnation was built in 1955. WWII also destroyed much of Japan of course. Thank goodness this survived. The temple is covered in gold leaf.
We had a whistlestop tour before lunch of Fushimi-Inari, a Shinto shrine with an amazing orange trailed wooden walkway.
Lunch in Kyoto was actually 99% vegan. 14th century Buddist monks didn’t believe in depriving anything of life, so had a strict vegetarian diet (but they did drink milk). We had ‘fu’, which isn’t too different from ‘fufu’ in Nigeria. When they went on a spiritual trip to China, this is what they bought back with them. It comes in two forms; raw it is called nama-fu and cooked it is called yaki-fu. It’s made from wheat gluten and has a sort of spongey texture. It tasted very good and was all beautifully presented, obviously.
We saw another temple, up a hill and huge, again with beautiful use of water and loads of tourists, called Kiyomizudera. Views of Kyoto were cracking.
By now we’d crammed most of Kyoto in to a few hours. The last thing on the list was a visit to a market, called Nishiki Market, which sells mainly fish, with a smattering of other stores, including a fu shop that had been there for centuries. We bought some chocolate koalas in the sweet shop. It was a whirlwind tour and great fun.
The Miuras have 4 cars. Four! The two we drove in don’t have keys or an ignition – they have an on button. I don’t think I have ever seen that before. It’s like the car is a computer. Is that common? I’m not a car person so this could be really common and I’ve only just realised.
On Thursday we popped down to File Under records and there it was, proudly on the shelf – Sunset’s album.
The only words I understood when Akiko, Koji and the fella in the shop conversed were ‘Domi-chan’, ‘Birmingham’, ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘military tattoo’. I hadn’t heard of most of the stuff in there and I restrained myself from taking a punt. I bought 6 records with Ana last week.
Our last night in Nagoya included some top stuff sushi with the revolving plates parading over the counter and a trip to this beautiful onsen next to a theme park. At the base of a hotel and at the mouth of a river, the river itself runs right through the onsen and you bathe amongst the sound of natural water. An onsen is so great and super relaxing. Just the simple act of bathing in hot water for a bit can make all sorts of differences. Considering I wore his clothes for a day earlier in the week, walking around starkers with Aya’s Dad was the next place to go really wasn’t it. A few years ago I probably would never have been comfortable naked around strangers but it’s not really a bother now.
We went back home and Koji got his expansive collection of whiskey, bourbon and cognac out. His cupboard is like a tardis – I don’t know where it was all coming from. It’s very common in Asia for people to not have the enzyme that digests alcohol. Steve Jnr told me why when I was in The Gambia. He worked for 2 years teaching in China and threw himself in to life there. He said that the Europeans used to use water to make mead and beer, so we have had centuries of alcohol, whereas in Asia they made tea. It has only been fairly recently that you have people in Asia that can drink a lot without going rosy cheeked and giggly after 2 drinks. Some of the Japanese are really making up for this now! And others can’t even take one drink – Yukino on Sunday had one glass of whiskey soda (called ‘Highball’) and was done for. It makes life much cheaper cos booze outside of convenience stores tends to be expensive. Koji had lovely red cheeks after 1 beer and 1 whiskey. It was all lovely.
We had some unbelievable Hiroshima style Okonomiyake for our last lunch on Friday. The chef with his cooking implements sounded like a master swordsman. The food this week has been nothing short of otherwordly. I’d say… cosmic.
We said our goodbyes and I headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen, the bullet train. I’d got a load of Jungle on my phone so I listened to nothing but the Amen break for 2 hours on the train.
After a hostel check-in back in Asakusa, I spent tonight in Iguacu Brasilian restaurant with Ana, who was DJing. There weren’t many customers in towards the end so we had some fun with the tunes. Ana let me blast out some Geronimo, some Carlinhos, some Ile Aiye, and then some Reggae and Drum n Bass when the customers had left. They do a superb Batida de Maracuja in there too.
All week, Akiko and Koji referred to me numerous times as ‘My son!’, and not in the Danny Dyer sense. I can’t tell you how amazing that is to hear that from people. It’s 9 years this July since I lost my Mum and Nan within 13 days of each other, all rather suddenly. Those two had raised me between them and within 8 months of me leaving Portsmouth to go to University in London, they were both gone. I was 19 and the life I knew had disappeared forever. I never had much of a relationship with my Dad but I was on good terms with him until then, and he hasn’t spoken to me since. He mistakenly thought I was keeping Mum’s illness from him when he and I went on holiday 3 weeks before she died – but the truth is I just didn’t know how serious it was because she didn’t want to tell me explicitly. The last time I saw him, he blanked me when I was working in a Portsmouth theatre at the end of 2008, five months after Mum died. House sales, re-homing beloved moggies, pretending everything was O.K – even the hardest bastard would struggle with all that. So to be called ‘a son’ by people is something that makes me rather emotional.
I’m not particularly nostalgic really. I like old music and history and stuff but I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of progress and moving forward. ‘The past is the past but think of all this stuff in the future’ type thing. But it was a past occurence that has totally blanketed my life ever since it happened. I had never realised quite how consuming it was until I began to sneak out from under the blanket. The feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, pointlessness, a total lack of drive and confidence, needing to bring people down to my level, the colossal amounts of beer, the poor decision making, the complete lack of any self worth, the numerous job rejections, the crap houses, the perennial frown, the lack of any direction at all, the over-sensitivity and no real idea whatsoever that it was all actually that bad. For a long time the only thing I had to focus on was running Batala London, because at my worst points I wasn’t working, I was living off inheritance and staring at a television or computer all week, sometimes even putting whiskey in tea out of sheer boredom. I feel I’ve never properly moved on and been stuck. Things have just never clicked. There’s never been a breakthrough or a real progression – I always made the same mistakes. The blanket of depression smothering my life since the summer of 2008 has consumed everything, and for it to have taken nearly 9 years for me to finally feel like I’m moving on shows just how deep it was. 9 bloody years! That’s 1/3 of my life. But this is just how long it takes and there is no right and wrong way of doing it.
It wasn’t helped by a lacked of admission that I might not be O.K. As long as I had at least something, which in nearly every case was something Batala related, I convinced myself I was O.K. I had a few radio and music jobs but nothing ever really seemed to click. I told everyone I was alright and I never really was. I think I was delusional.
What has happened in all this time though is that I have had the most incredible people step in and fill the gaps. My Auntie and Uncle have been amazing, supportive and loving. People like Alex, Charlie and Huw have looked after me like I was their own, and been the most perfect inspiration and father figures. Families like the James’s and the Miuras take me in and treat me like I’m one of them, and spoil me rotten. I was with Ella at the time it all happened and her and her family got me through those first 2 years, which would have been difficult for them, until I split from her and really plunged. Countless number of friends have made sure I’m O.K. and been patient with my nonsense. My devotion to Batala was perfect for me until the very second that it wasn’t, at the beginning of last year, when I had begun to dig everything up again. I’d realised I really needed to sort myself out. It had got to the point where it felt so unnatural for me to be positive about things; positive about anything at all.
Which brings us to the point we are at now.
It’s almost like regardless of everything I’ve done in the last few years, the successes that I’ve had, my life has been on pause. I said last post that I see an old picture of myself and don’t see Liam, and that’s genuinely the case, especially pictures of somebody with big hair. I see absolutely nothing of myself in that person. Not one jot. When I read what Buddha said about the universe constantly evolving, it was a real watershed moment to put that feeling in to words. At the moment I feel like a crab that has shed its skin. A crab with a blog. It’s also especially odd for me, considering the previous incarnation of Liam had a Samba Reggae band, to be teaching and playing Samba Reggae again. All this was simply what I needed to do, and Samba Reggae continues to be the music of my heart, which is some going considering my voracious appetite for every type of music there is. Samba Reggae still gets me like nothing else does.
Speaking of nostlagia earlier – he’s an easy target but ‘make America great again’ is such an abstract sentence. That ‘again’ makes me laugh. When exactly was the time it was great before, Donald? That’s what gets me about nostalgia, it’s so abstract. The brain often forgets the crap stuff around things and remembers the good stuff, which is why we often look back fondly at things. I think ‘make Britain great again’ has been used too at times. I almost did my dissertation on ‘when exactly were the good old days?’ At what point is it when people stop looking forwards and start to increasingly look backwards? I know these political puppets aren’t to be taken seriously but nostalgia is one of many dangerous weapons used by these politicians. It taps in to something that people feel empowered by, even though it doesn’t actually exist really. Sure there are past achievements, days out and holidays that you look back on with supreme fondness, but ‘make America great again’ is… well, it’s bollocks. And bollocks that won him a Presidency.
I came across this interesting thing too: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways
Girassol rehearsals this weekend and no doubt more fun Tokyo times. I have 10 more days here before New Orleans. Plenty of time to fall in love with Tokyo even more.