Tokyo Holiday : Sunday

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Arrival in Japan

Konnichi Wa. Hello. I'm Douglas. If you have arrived at this diary, then you probably already know me, but in case you don't, I'm a bearded thirty-something teaching assistant from Cambridge, England. I've always been facinated with the elements of Japanese culture that I have come across through studying mythology, watching Japanese animated films (aka Anime) and practicing martial arts.

In the autumn of 2004 my partner, Louise Burfleet, and I visited the Tokyo area of Japan for a week. This diary is the story of our visit. The writing is mine. Most of the pictures are Louise's.
View from aircraft

We left Heathrow, England, on Virgin Atlantic flight VS900, departing at 13:00 hours UK local time Saturday, and arriving 09:00 hours Japanese local time Sunday at Narita airport outside Tokyo. Given there's an 8 hour time difference during the Summer, that's a 12 hour flight. We opted to try different strategies to cope with this jet lag. Louise stayed awake all Friday night, hoping to sleep most of the flight. I got as much sleep as possible Friday night, aiming to stay awake all the way until Sunday evening. As it turned out, we both spent most of the flight watching movies on Virgin's rather funky movie on demand system and practicing the rather limited Japanese vocabulary that we'd managed to print out from the internet. You know, you get very strange looks in airports sometimes, if you march through them assiduously chanting phone numbers to each other "ichi-knee-knee-san-shi-knee-rocko-shi-rocko-knee"

It had been raining in the UK, but the flight was smooth as silk (possibly due to the new-style rather bent looking wing tips on the plane) and by the time we were over the coast of Japan, the sun was shining brightly. Quite luckily, really, as it turned out that the previous week not only had Japan been hit with their worst earthquake for 10 years , they'd also been suffering floods and many deaths from their worst typhoon in 25 years.
First view of Japan

At the airport we were met by a highly efficient guide from the travel agency and whisked via "Airport Limousine" (that's a bus) to our hotel: the Crowne Plaza (also known, rather confusingly, as the Metropolitan). Not wanting to waste a moment of our precious seven days, we immediatly set out to explore. And got immediately confounded by their transport system. Apparently this happens to everyone. In London you can buy a single ticket that covers all tube lines and busses for the whole day. Not in Tokyo. In Tokyo they have three seperate tube systems, with no obvious way to tell between two of them. It probably goes with their system of writing, which has one set of ideograms (Kanji) and two sets of difficult to distinguish phonetic alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana). The easy to distinguish tube line was the JR or Yamanote line which goes in a slow circle around a ring of 30 stops, and can get you most places in central Tokyo. Eventually we reached our first destination:

Yoyogi Park

Cos Players
Yoyogi park is the place to go in Tokyo on a weekend afternoon, if you are young, hip and weird. Near the entrance to the Meiji shrine, by Harajuku station, people dress up as characters from their favourite anime shows and computer games, or just how they feel like.

Members of the Rockabillys
Further in it is full of people just having a good time. We spent some time watching seven members of the Tokyo Rockabilly Club dancing to Rock 'n' Roll music, playing the air guitar.

Breakdancing Painter
We also came across one amazing guy who painted recognisable portraits of people which simultaneously doing a creditable break dance.

Akihabara Evening

According to Louise, who is not quite as keen on anime as I am, Akihabara contains "an excessive number of anime shops". She indulged me, though, as I wandered around the district regularly saying things like "Oooh, look at that", looking to see what I could bring back for friends back home.

For supper we settled on an out of way cafe that seemed to list the names of the dishes in English as well as Japanese. It turned out to be what the Japanese call a "Cos-play" cafe, which means the waitresses dress up in costume. At the Mia cafe they they all wore traditional 18th centuary British maid's uniforms. The service was excellent, the food was nice, and the plates were, well, "L" shaped. Don't ask me why. Perhaps tradition. Perhaps because they fitted better on narrow tables? Behind the till they had stuck to the wall drink mats upon which visiting artists has sketched the staff at work. When they noticed my interest they gathered together half the people in the cafe to pore over a map and suggest places for me to visit. Wow!

Little Non Live!
After supper, while wandering through the district, we were attracted by the sound of live music. Crossing the road we found someone had set up a generator, lights and were giving a full concert so we joined the audience who were politely squashed against the closed shop fronts to leave the pavement unobstructed. It turns out there's this professional rock group Little Non who give free live performances, just announcing it on their fan website and going out in their van, whenever they feel like it.

Back at the hotel, after braving the trains, we tried a little bit of Japanese TV. The most interesting channel was Go TV - a station dedicated to the board game "Go". They were covering a match being played in some tournament and the two commentators back at the studio had a large foam rubber mock up of the board showing the current position. They took it in turns to explain the most recent moves of the real players by actually playing through on the mock board what the consequences would have been of various alternatives. Chess eat your heart out.

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