Friday, April 13, 2007


It was a long haul into Tokyo.
Contrary to expectation the Japanese hardly use (or accept) credit cards, so having cash is pretty essential. Unfortunately they don't seem to use ATM's very much either, and the ones they do use don't like USA or UK cards. It took ages to find the one machine in the whole of Narita that would give us any money, and then we went slightly mad, drawing out millions of yen in a sort of cashpoint panic.

A 70 minute fast-train into Ueno, Tokyo and there we had to switch onto the subway.
The Tokyo subway map looks like a 2-year old sat down with 24 coloured crayons and scribbled for an hour. Then some really clever calligrapher with amazing eyesight added hundreds of really tiny Kanji symbols. Errr.......?

The big subway map on the wall and all the ticket price charts were in Kanji. So were the ticket machines. On top of which, the TH kept almost knocking himself out because the entire subway system is built for people under 5 foot 8". Oh and there were hundreds and hundreds of people running around madly, trying to get to work, (or to who knows where, 'cos we couldn't read any place names.)

A long time later (ie. when we'd had time to learn the Japanese language) we managed to work out the Kanji symbol for the station we were going to, and then with much trial and error, make the ticket machine understand that too. The TH has lived in Japan for a year before now, so we were clearly at an advantage (though I failed to see what advantage exactly).

Finally we arrived at Shibuya and crossed over the famous 4-way crossing, as seen in Lost in Translation, and doubtless countless other movies.

First impressions of Tokyo.
The noise is extraordinary. All the huge billboard videos on the sides of buildings have a soundtrack and every shop has music spilling outside. It is overwhelmingly loud.

It is fast. A fast that makes New York look like a bunch of English Sunday drivers. We stopped for a coffee at Starbucks and a queue of around 20 people was served in less than a minute - scary fast. In Starbucks, as almost everywhere else, people are employed specifically to organise other people, so two people were simply organising the queue. Later that day we glimpsed the subway marshals in action, employed literally to push people on and off the overcrowded trains, and clear the platforms. I stopped on the platform for a moment to get my bearings and got ushered towards an exit quite aggressively. When a train empties, the platform is cleared within seconds.

Consequently everything at least gives the outward appearance of being super-efficient. But sometimes it feels like Big Brother. For instance, there appear to be two traffic police at each traffic light later in the day, who march into the road hands in the air at every red light. Why does a red traffic light also need two people to stop the traffic one has to ask?

We walked around the area and up to Takeshita Street - which I guess is Tokyo's Camden. The pavements are spotlessly clean - not a cigarette butt in sight. Then I realise that there are 'no smoking' signs along the actual streets and smoking areas with ashtrays at street corners. The few people who are smoking as they walk are carrying portable ashtrays.

Yes it's true that Japanese schoolgirls wear ridiculously short mini-skirts. And yes it's true that you can buy almost anything from a myriad of vending machines. It also seems to be true that Japanese females wear shoes at least 2 sizes too big for them, making it very difficult for them to walk and almost impossible to run as they drag their hanging-off-footwear after them. I can only presume this is some sort of weird fashion statement?

Then the subway to Roppongi. Tokyo is vast and sprawling, which you start to understand when you realise you can spend 40 minutes on a subway and still exit somewhere as central as when you went in. First to the new Ritz-Carlton hotel to check out the venue Tessa will be playing in all Summer. We sneaked past a 'residents only' sign and had a couple of drinks in the gorgeous 45th floor lounge, taking sneaky photos to show T. That'll be a nice gig. Then to a bar Bryan had mentioned to us the previous evening - 'Geronimo's'. It's extraordinary how bars here can be up in a tiny elevator to the second floor, like you're going to someone's apartment, with no clue whatsoever on the outside as to where the place is. The bar was full of English-speaking residents and within the hour we were all MySpace friends because they're musicians really. It's a shot bar so we left before we were forced to buy the whole bar a round and donate a tie of the TH's to the trader's 'wall of ties'.......

The last train to Narita.


Blogger purplemafling said...

Fab photos sis. Makes me want to go on a little travel....): xx

6:09 AM, April 17, 2007  

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