Another few days, another blog post. Life in Tokyo is brilliant.
After a couple of days in the hostel in Asakusa after coming back from Nagoya, I’ve been generously and perfectly hosted by the Kazamas in Tama again this week. Romi and Mayumi are such delectable hosts and the cats are so great. Black and white cat Milk loves this thing called ‘Pom Pom’ where Romi taps his lower back by his tail. He goes bonkers for it whilst tabby Ayemi pretends not to watch. I’m beginning to really know my way around Tokyo too. Being out in the suburbs a bit, the trains and I are really getting to know each other, and it really does help that the next language after Japanese here is English. I’m still scurrying notes down of handy Japanese phrases and writing them out phonetically. Romi bought me this amazing ‘Japanese to English point and speak’ book too, which is cracking.
On Saturday I pootled about a bit, trying not to do too much for a day. I went on a date with a Filipino girl in the evening in Harajuku, which was nice. She was very quirky. Harajuku is seen as the ‘young person’ area and it looks a little bit like Brighton. Some of the back street shops could be a walk round the Laines. Takeshita Street is full of lolita fashion, hello kitty keyrings and teenagers.
I fancied a walk Sunday morning, starting with a trip up the Asakusa tourist building that has 8th floor views over the area.
As the Sumida River is right by Asakusa and I didn’t know if I’d be back there again, after a coffee on the 8th floor, off I popped. The Sumida River was of course where the gold statue of Buddha was found by those fisherman brothers, that went on to be the thing that formed the Senso-ji Temple that I went to on day 1 or 2. It used to be the path of the Ara-kawa River but that was diverted in to the Sumida to prevent flooding.
Much like London, a lot of Tokyo’s rivers were diverted or culverted to allow for development. The Sumida runs for 27km through Tokyo and has 26 bridges. The Tokyo Skytree is very close too.
I saw my first homeless people in Tokyo, quietly napping along the river path.
This bloke below wasn’t moved by those jetskis.
There weren’t that many people milling around really. It was one of those gorgeous, blue skied crisp winter days that with a few layers and scarf on are perfect for walking in. There are still flowers about, adding colour to the endless buildings.
This fella looked like a corpse snoring his head off.
I’ve not seen anybody asking for money here yet, and apparently a lot of homeless people have part time jobs. I don’t know if that’s true. This person had built themselves a house alongside the river and had a cat. Fish were hung up, I presume drying out, and maybe they sell them. That or it’s one well looked after cat.
The crisp, riverside freshness of the air was perfect for a Sunday lunchtime. There’s something about walking on a Sunday and I don’t know what it is. I have a half memory from Q.I. about the dust cycle. The time and days of the week are man-made, so with the earth’s dust cycle carrying on as normal, it just so happens that where the week falls, Saturdays are more likely to have rain and Sundays are more likely to be sunny. I can remember countless number of lovely winter Sundays. All week has been blue skies, freezing and fresh, so perhaps it is simply down to Sunday being a day off that I notice it. Also – remember that last post? When do Christians go to Church? SUN-day. There’s another one.
That afternoon was a great Girassol rehearsal – they’re preparing for a really important gig and I haven’t taken any videos so the set isn’t ruined online before they’ve done it. They’re such a fun band to play with. Their set for Saude-Saudade, the name of the event on February 11th, is a 7 minute Maracatu/Afoxe/Samba Reggae batucada intro piece that sounds brilliant, followed by a set of tunes with Leite (Bianca) and Yuko singing. They tried on their costumes too and looked like Baianas. Beleza!
That night we had some Chinese grub and then Tokochan and her husband Katsuhisa took me off to a really local karaoke bar where his samba team were all drinking and ‘singing’ famous Japanese pop songs. Now, I try as much as I can to follow that great Ritchie Benaud quote – always try your best but never take yourself too seriously – but this has yet to extend to karaoke. Whilst it’s funny to be around and to watch, having them put on Yesterday by The Beatles and proceed to absolutely massacre it as a welcome gesture, imploring me to sing as well (and I really can’t sing), does act as a bit of a poser for me. I managed to get away without singing but it does make me feel guilty for saying no. And why pick such a melancholy Beatles song! Get Hey Bulldog out or something! One day I’ll get there. I actually wouldn’t mind if I could hold a tune; I’d get stuck in. They then went back to singing J-Pop classics and it genuinely was funny hearing it all sung so badly. It was the final night of the samba queen’s time, as the handover is happening imminently. I think they call her Hyena. She was absolutely smashed and Tokochan had to translate her ramblings to me for ages. There’s a huge all-night samba party on Sunday, which will be fun.
An elderly couple run the karaoke place, which is the size of a good front room. It’s difficult to tell how old the Japanese are. A person in their 40s could easily look 25. I got a photo with the lady in charge. I’m 28, she’s 82. She could be 50!
On Monday I ventured up to Shinjuku to head up to the viewing deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The Tokyo Skytree is higher but is really expensive, whereas it’s free here. It’s on the 45th floor and I went up as the sun was coming down.
Tokyo never ends. The city just goes on for miles and miles and miles. It’s amazing to stare at. I got a coffee (I hardly have tea at all these days) and watched as the daylight turned in to what looked like one of those great helicopter G.Vs from The Apprentice.
Shinjuku is mad. The buildings are all massive. Japan was obliterated in World War II so loads and loads of it is new or relatively new. The red light district is round there as well as these tiny alleys of endless restaurants. There’s a shop called BicQlo that is a mixture between UniQlo and a shop that sells absolutely everything – and I mean everything. 8 floors of endless stuff. Every train line seems to go through Shinjuku and it’s only a couple of miles from where the 2020 Olympic stadium is being built.
On Tuesday I went to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku.
It’s many acres of former Emporer Meiji and Empress Shõken’s land, with their souls enshrined within the grounds. I like that – not their bodies interred, but their souls deified in the grounds. It makes the physical much more spiritual.
Sake and Wine barrels line the walkway as you enter in to the grounds.
I was genuinely moved when walking around there, especially in the Inner Garden. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed walking around woods; browns and greens, the crackle of sticks and leaves, sitting by a pond. It could have been all manner of London parks. It made me think of a lyric in Bowie’s tune Dollar Days, on Blackstar. ‘If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me, it’s nothing to see’. He should have come here.
I especially love inner city places like this. Right in the middle of a huge, bustling city, you’ve got this haven of 100,000 trees and water. I love that you can still just about hear the city in the distance but not over the sound of water, birds and the hum of nature. It’s yet another thing that Tokyo has the same as London. My favourite park in London is Wanstead Park and this place has first dibs so far in Tokyo.
In the summer, the Irises come out along here, making a sort of flowery river.
At the top end is a well, or ido.
Legend has it that it was built by military commander Lord Kiyomasa Kato during the Edo period, as he had a house on these grounds. It was passed to the Imperial State when the Monarchy was reformed, starting with Emporer Meiji in the 1860s. The well is supposed to have cosmic powers and provide good fortune. A few years back Japanese celebrities said a background picture of the well on your phone would transform your luck. For years they didn’t know where the water came from but they think it might be natural spring water. It’s crystal clear and runs a few hundred yards along the Iris beds and in to the lake.
It was time for dins so as she was DJing nearby, I had some Brazilian grub with Ana before going to some evening Pagode in Asakusa. The Pagode bunch are great, lead by Den and Claudio, and we even did a rendition of Um Sorriso Negro.
After organising it over dinner, Wednesday saw Ana and I take a trip to nearby Yokohama, to see what we could see, and to visit Leite who owns a cafe there. It’s not that far from Tokyo and is a waterside port city with tonnes of industry and history.
We wandered around, taking in views of the city on a calm Wednesday afternoon. There’s a large Victorian era type red brick factory by the water side that used to be customs buildings. It’s a shopping centre now.
After some grub in China Town we went to meet Leite, whose cafe has only been open 4 months so is all shiny and new. She bakes all the cakes herself and the Cake au Citron was unbelieveable (I can’t stop eating in Japan). Much of the menu was European food and it wasn’t until the 3 of us went for a night time stroll that I realised how European some of Yokohama is.
One shopping street, Motomachi Street, was lined with buildings all different to the next one, selling expensive boutique stuff. It could have been France, or Austria, or even Chichester. As we took a right and strolled up a steep hill, I completely forgot I was in Japan. It’s an area called Yamate, or ‘Bluff’, which means cliff edge, and it was so much like walking round Hampstead that I found it scary.
There’s a Catholic Church there and everything. 140 years ago, the British and the French both had troops based in the area, so the colonial buildings have resulted in the area not looking like Japan in the slightest. Still now, American teenagers rolled round the streets on their way back from one of the 3 international schools in the area.
There is a foreign-only cemetery at the top end of Bluff before you head back.
It freaked me out! I was back home again. The number of similarities between Japan and England is simply non-stop. Yokohama’s Treaty Port was opened at the end of the Edo Period so the result was a town full of immigrants, the two biggest areas being China Town and Yamate.
Bluff is up a hill too – why are affluent areas like this always up a hill? It’s the opposite with the favelas.
We saw two taxis sporting this amazing slogan on the side doors. “Taxi – the contribution to society”. It’s ‘the’ that I like. There is only one contribution to society – and it’s a taxi.
I’ve caught a bit more Japanese telly. It’s all magazine variety programmes. That’s really it – imagine just having different versions of the Paul O’Grady Show on every channel every day, but really colourful and with a lot more female presenters and guests. That sounds alright actually.
The next few days will include some more drums with various different people, a Liam dinner for the band, that samba party and a trip to Roppongi. I haven’t been to Roppongi yet because it’s apparently full of foreigners, but I’m hoping to go Saturday night because there’s a place called the ‘Abbey Road Live House’. It’s a Japanese Cavern Club. Oh yes! No butchering of Yesterday in there! The Parrots are on Saturday night, who are one of the world’s best Beatles tribute bands, so to say I’m excited would be underselling it somewhat. Good weren’t they, the Beatles. I like ’em.