Konnichiwa, I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday, and somehow managed to find my hostel within minutes of the place closing - they keep a very strict timetable here, showers before 8am, leave the building between 10-4, home by 10pm, and lights out at 10:30 - it would be like prison except its very comfy and they provide slippers!
Meetng up with my old friend Ikuo, we went downtown to Nezu, the old quarter of Tokyo, equivalent to the east end. Shinto and Buddhist temples sit next to one another, wooden prayer tablets racked against headstones which look like very old ski`s. We tossed a coin into a well, bowed our heads and took a look at the little tags of paper tied to a length of string, prayers for good health, prosperity or a good wife!
Its an extraordinary place, dilapated wooden buildings have survived, sandwiched between concrete and glass structures. A young man walked along in a pair of geta, wooden flip-flops that clattered across the street like horse hooves. We slurped juicy noodles in a tiny restaurant, fake plastic replicas of the meal displayed in the window - very useful for non-Japanese speakers! A patch of land awaiting development had 4 trees planted in a square, a Shinto ceremony, representing the points of the compass, intending to bring good fortune to the new building. Headi! ng towards the more touristy Ueno district, a rickshaw pulled a kimono clad woman, face painted white, taking her towards her wedding.
Despite the rampant technology, giant skyscrapers and modernism of Tokyo, it is a wonder how traditional the place is, and how many old practices are still observed.
The following morning, I took to the Tsukiji Fish Market, where ALL the fish that feeds Tokyo is brought to, and sold on. There were masses of tiny shrimp, huge fish heads, tentacled monsters, slabs of salmon, and people bustling everywhere. It was mayhem, tuk-tuks dashed back and forth, delivering the fish from the wholesalers to the retailers, and getting lost in this crazy world of dead fish, I ducked between the vans and rickshaws, trying to find the way out!
The weather was terrible, so I ducked into a Kabuki performance down the road in Ginza. Elaborately dressed samurai sat solemnly, whilst a jilted lover (a man in a dress, bit like panto!) danced gracefully across the wide Kabuki stage.
All of these experiences have been extraordinary - but Shinjuku topped it all! The heart of Tokyo, the streets were a sea of neon advertisment boards, the streets were filled with people pouring out of work, heading towards Kabuki-cho, land of love hotels and massage parlours. But the one place that really surprised me, was that amongst this flashy shops, expensive department stores and discount electronic shops was a series of narrow alleys, sometimes known as Yakatori Alley.
As a matter of fact, the place has no name, and neither do many of the dozens of tiny bars and eateries that are sit in this tiny district. Despite occupying the most expensive real estate in the world, the place would not look out of place in Kathmandu, or any other developing Asian town. The little wooden shacks are filled with salarymen, workers who have finished for the day, enjoying a beer (or 2) with skewered chicken, fish, and vegetables. Drawn towards one for dinner, a sat in one of these tiny places, an ! open grill charring the skewered f ood in front of me, it was filled with character and flavour, the rain poured outside, finding a way between the squashed higgledy-piggledy alley. This was Blade Runner, and no mistake, tiny ancient noodle bars sat side-by-side next to the 21st century shopping malls, the size of small towns.
Have just arrived in Kyoto, somehow, despite the language barrier and lack of English/Roman language signs I seem to be finding my way around (fingers crossed). Surprisingly, no-one takes credit cards here, and there are very few internet cafes, but will email again when i can.