Tokyo Holiday : Saturday

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Tea Gardens

I'll leave out the boring details of packing and getting ready to depart. But we did fit a few more things into our last day, amidst sniffs and sad farewells.

The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden looks really pretty, even in the rain. We wandered around, recounting fairy-tales to each other. In particular the Tea House was very picturesque. I'm sort of surprised that nobody in Japan has yet invented a ceremonial way to serve coffee, but it's only the tea that gets the treatment.






Omotesando Avenue

Elvis is alive and well, and serving customers in the shop that serves as the Tokyo Rockabilly headquarters, just off Omotesando Avenue. The avenue is a very crowded 'youth' shopping area, disappointingly full of western brands. We did find one curio shop, that looked like a haven from the swinging 60s, where I bought Louise some things to match her Kimono, but other than that we just pigged out on crepes (ice cream, banana and chocolate for me, strawberry and whipped cream for Louise).

Manga Shop
Yoyogi park was, alas, deserted due to the rain. We'd been there on the first day, and this was an absolute contrast. No sign it had ever been anything other than a boring streach of paving near a busy station. One of the guidebooks described Japanese Punks as the only punks in the world who clean up after themselves. Certainly we've noticed a strong environmentalist concern from many organisations over here. I wonder how that squares with whaling?

We added a new rule to our food finding methodology: if two places smell equally nice, go to the one that is more popular with the locals. This resulted in having lunch at a Raman bar. Ramen is basically a big bowl of soup with lots of stuff (like roast pork) and ramen noodles in. It was delicious - definitely one to repeat. I wonder if anywhere in London does it?




The area around Ikebukuro tube station, near our hotel, is actually pretty lively in the evenings. It seems to have a little of everything. There's masses of shops, both western and oriental. There's the business area, and the parts where the homeless try to doss down out of the rain. There's the glitzy brash gambling and red light area. And there's the arty area, where anyone who things they can plunk a guitar comes along to sing. They are there, not to busk, but just to perform and meet each other, which is pretty cool. My favourite bit was seeing, not thirty meters from our hotel's back door, a man teaching a woman some dancing moves. He was a fantastic dancer, like something from a pop music video, and they were in a world of their own, just doing their thing. I like that.

Carpark Attendants
Talking of the homeless, Japan seems to have a fairly aggressive stance on unemployment. There are a lot of 'grunt' jobs, like standing outside a carpark all day with a glowing batton, waiting to wave people in and out. At one intersection, which had a working belisha beacon, there were no less than three people with battons, matching uniforms and ties directing the people across. (By the way, ALL men in Japan wear a tie. It is a law or something.) This was a little strange as not 200 meters down the street was a hectically busy 10 way intersection with not a helper in sight (although it did get invaded a little later by 3 cars full of policemen in matching dinky plastic rain hats).

To finish the evening, we had another Shabu-Shabu, this time using a gas ring set in the middle of the table. I'm very glad we resolved not to have any western food while over here - trying new things sometimes takes courage, but we can have western food any time we like once home.

Sayonara Nippon

Skunk Works
There's not much to say about the flight back. We had a last look from the 25th floor observatory in the hotel, met our original guide at 6:50am and plied him with questions all the way to the airport. Like, does anyone in Japan really keep a skunk as a pet? BA006 took off somewhat later than the scheduled 13:00, and many many tedious hours later we were back fighting the traffic in England. Virgin has a much better entertainment setup than British Airways.

Narita Airport
So what did we think of Japan and the Japanese?

Parts of the holiday were spent sick, tired, lost and frustrated. But overall we had a wonderful time. Research we did before hand definitely paid off, finding things out once there isn't always easy - we were lucky to have a hotel with an internet connection and a printer we could use for maps. Even so, there were things we didn't get to do that we'd hoped to see. No theatre. No visit to a traditional bath house. No sword making. Nothing on World War II or the atomic bomb. In particular, we were disappointed with their national museum's total lack of coverage of that period of their history.

Be polite. We can't say this enough: BE POLITE. If you make a effort to show you are trying to be courteous, all the Japanese we met would fall over themselves to be helpful back.

Bring a phrase book and an English-Japanese dictionary. Just being able to point at the page will be of immense help to you.

Would I want to live there? No. Good for a 2 week or month holiday, but if you don't learn the language, anywhere but Tokyo will feel extremely isolating.

Where do I think Japan is going? I can't say, and neither could any of the Japanese I asked. There are many beautiful things in Japan, and many contradictions. I think it will be influencing world culture for years to come, but in which direction I cannot predict.


Thank you to everyone who has been patient, waiting for me to finish writing up this diary. It took a while, so please do send feedback as it will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you too to everyone who helped make our holiday the experience it was.

I would also welcome feedback on any broken links, or further resources I can link to that others visiting Japan might find helpful:

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