Days spent – 14 days (12 September 2016 to 26 September 2016)
Places visited – Tokyo, Kyoto
Books read – The Girl on the Train (unfinished)
Things done – Cosplay cafe, Imperial Palace gardens, National Museum, Meiji Shrine, Pokémon Centre, Babymetal gig, Shinkansen!, Kiyomizudera, Sanjusang- endo, Fushimi Inari shrine
Highlight(s) – Japanese people, having a friend!
Lowlight(s) – Illness, cost
Cost – £1,019.81 (£72.84 per day)
Welcome to Japan, please remember to take your shoes off at the door.
It’s not a good start, I’ve gotten ill in Beijing. The main travellers’ problem, commonly referred to as Delhi Belly but for me it’s Beijing Belly, non-rhyming but alliterative. Thankfully, I manage to survive the flights in via Incheon, with a three hour wait! This unfortunately means I don’t feel like doing anything for the first four days before Tom arrives. Which means I’m confined to Tokyo, hemorrhaging money and feeling awful in general. I’ve not met anyone yet and due to being solo resulting in me looking after myself, thus probably dehydrating myself meaning I take longer to recover. The last couple of days I consider going to hospital but luckily the day before Tom arrives I start to feel better and eat and drink properly again.
The other downside to my Japan experience, and probably most peoples’, is that it’s very expensive, the very cheapest hostels are around twenty pounds per night. It’s comparable to the most expensive regions of Europe. If you go to the ‘wrong’ place you can pay a thousand yen for a beer, which is about seven pounds and fifty pence, the right places aren’t much cheaper. Food isn’t quite as bad but it isn’t possible to find anything less than five pounds. On arrival I land at Haneda airport quite late. I head straight for the subway but the machine won’t take my card so I have to get yen. By the time I’ve got yen the last train has left! I ask at information and apparently my only option is taxi, nine thousand yen (sixty-five pounds) instead of six hundred (five pounds), damn it.
The real reason that Tom and I are in Japan is for Babymetal, one of my favourite bands of the moment. As gig day arrives our plan is to take the subway to Tokyo Dome (there’s another one thousand yen gone), we head for the merchandise, it’s ‘Black Night’ and I don’t own a black shirt, at least not with me in Japan! Also, I have to get a Japanese Babymetal shirt, right? The flip side of this is that the queue to get merch takes a couple hours and it’s lashing down! In our infinite wisdom, we’ve decided to go to Japan in typhoon season, it rains most days, although I blame Babymetal’s scheduling. Finally we have our shirts and it’s lunchtime, due to the weather the closest place will do, it’s TGI Fridays… Not very Japanese but convenient. It’s also the closest place to the Dome which we go to at five. Yes, doors are early here, especially as there is no support act. After some (inevitably expensive) pre-drinks we decide we are both feeling a nice little buzz for the gig. We get in and find our seats which sounds easy but isn’t because we’re in Tokyo. Right, let’s find a beer, we haven’t seen anywhere selling any on the way so we ask. No beer. Iie bi-ru I query in my best Japanese, my expression aghast, iie bi-ru. There’s no beer.
As Englishmen we don’t know what to do in this situation, so we sit and wait for Babymetal like lost children. We can look around the Dome which is quite impressive. I take the picture below before realising that photography and video is banned as they’re filming this for a live DVD, hopefully before the gig is ok as I don’t want to offend the Japanese. The gig is good but it’s a little strange because it’s all seating. I’ve never been seated at a gig before. It just isn’t quite the same… The band are great. It’s weird because the crowd just copy what the girls do, although it’s cool to see because the capacity is fify-five thousand. One of my favourite bands has a song called Ten Thousand Fists and the lyrics are ‘ten thousand fists in the air’, but this is more like one hundred and ten thousand fists in the air! Despite Babymetal being awesome I left feeling like I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have done.
Mmm, Japanese food. Although they have a habit of putting uncooked egg on some dishes, which isn’t well received by me after my illness. We try sake (which is pronounced sa-keh not sa-kee), it’s not nice and I’ve subsequently learnt that Korean and Chinese rice wines aren’t very nice either. The Japanese whiskey however is on point, but that isn’t even the best bit! For here, they have a drink called STRONG! It comes in cans in convenience stores and is vodka flavoured with pineapples or grapes or lemons etc. It’s nine per cent, two or three cans is enough!
Fortunately food ordering isn’t as difficult as you might think because there are generally pictures or even 3D plastic replicas of the food. What’s surprising is that curry is a big thing here, it’s very mild and usually comes with a cut up chicken or pork cutlet on top. I’d be grateful if this idea got exported to the wider world. Coincidentally, I also have it on my flight to Korea, as least Asiana Airlines are trying to help! It doesn’t rain all the time (just most of the time), but when it doesn’t it’s hot and pretty humid which enables me to try crazy ice cream flavours. Green tea is weird but purple sweet potato is pretty good. Of course I’m now in chopstick territory, which makes life more interesting. Apparently these came into use because they are supposed to be an extension of the fingers. I’m just not sure how out of all the implements that can be chosen how chopsticks won… Chopsticks level: beginner.
Four days into my Japan stay, Tom arrives. This is strange, I know this person! Travelling as a twosome is so different from being solo. Instead of fighting with yourself which direction or which line to take on the subway, you fight with someone else! It was great to spend a whole week with one person (first time since I left), although in an odd way, when he left I felt a mixture of sadness and liberation. Travelling solo for a week or two isn’t long enough, but travelling for a month plus you learn things about yourself you didn’t know before. Thanks for coming to see me, we can tick seeing Babymetal in Tokyo off of our lists!
To get from Tokyo to Kyoto, we take the shinkansen, in Western circles we call it a bullet train. I don’t like it, and I love trains. It’s too fast, although confusingly it doesn’t feel as if you’re going that fast (over two hundred miles per hour). It’s more akin to taking a plane. You don’t see or a appreciate what you’re passing. This isn’t what travelling overland is supposed to be like…
I said on Facebook when I was travelling to Japan that I was expecting weirdness. I found it in a cosplay cafe. For those that don’t know what these are, they are cafes that have waitresses that are dressed as French maids, they are ‘trained’ to call customers ‘master’ and be submissive as they give you water, serviettes etc. But wait, that isn’t the weird part! The weird part is the clientelle, there is a man here who is in his mid twenties. He has two toy sheep on his table. Yes you read that right. He takes great pleasure simply in moving these sheep on his table, turning them around, making them look in a different direction. Upon leaving he picks up the sheep but on the way out he thrusts the sheep at the maids whilst bleating. It’s hard not to laugh.
Language is interesting, they have not one but three alphabets. I’ve been practising my Japanese for two months but I only know one of them. Not overly useful in and of itself but I can speak a little. As in all major cities these days the subways are in English too, but Tokyo has a lot of overland trains too and it also has a complicated subway in that not all the lines are straight-forward (some of them fork, and one is a circle with a stem like an elongated Q, work that one out!). It’s nice to know some language so that you can have conversations even if they aren’t proper ones! It takes Tom six days to learn arigatou. Although even that is limited in it’s usefulness because Japanese people are so polite they rarely say thank you and always say thank you very much!
Which brings me nicely on to the highlight, Japanese people. Us British like to think we’re polite and some of the world agrees with us. It doesn’t matter what language I use I tend to say sorry (gomennasai) about twenty times per day! But we have nothing on the Japanese. When you walk into a shop or restaurant there’s a chorus of irasshaimase (welcome) by all staff coupled with a frenzy of bowing. Desu isn’t really a word in Japanese, it’s just used to express politeness so every sentence ends with it! What’s your name (anata no namae wa nan desu ka?)? Even the response has it: my name is Ian (watashi no namae wa Ian desu) and I’m English (watashi wa Ingirisujin desu), ok, you get the idea! But the climax of this great hospitality comes when we went out for drinks in Tokyo. Bars aren’t that obvious here and many are located in apartments above the ground floor, they’re very cosy affairs. Tom and I have been joined by two Germans who have made the trek from across Tokyo to Shinjuku to join us (thanks Fabi and Thomas), in typhoon weather also of course. We’re sat at this four-person table and are painfully obviously non-Japanese. After our first drink a group of Japanese people enter who are, let’s say, jolly! We have a great time. We practise our broken Japanese and they demonstrate their good English. Not only do we leave the ar at six am (it’s daylight), but they pay for all our drinks! I know… Toyo – if you or your brother are ever in England, please let me or Tom know and we’ll look after you. All I can say is…
Strawbs – written 24 October 2016, published 26 October 2016
Fushimi Inari shrine gates
Skytree – second tallest building in the world
Literally a random shrine we happened upon
The world’s busiest pedestrian crossing – Shibuya
The view from Skytree – didn’t enjoy the glass bottom bit…!
Get the beers in…