An all night flight stemming from Bali being lazy for a day resulted in us arriving at Tokyo ridiculously early. This, combined with a farcical check in time of 4pm resulted in us perching in a bagel shop for nearly two hours before starting to make our move towards the district we were staying in. Renting a pocket Wifi was both a blessing and a curse to me as we could now find out where we are without asking directions but unfortunately my Dad could ring me at even more inconvenient times throughout the day.
Personal admin over with, we then tried to navigate the bowl of spaghetti hoops that is Tokyo’s railway system. There are five or six railway companies with many lines to their name, most of which go to the same location but some deviate for a few stops. Oh, and to make things easier, there are express, local and a sort of half-hearted semi express trains; these all occasionally miss out stops presumably when there is a slight breeze in the air or when the train driver wants to get home for some sushi. It’s also written in Japanese, a language which appears like someone was playing tic-tac-toe and got a bit lost along the way. Several missed stops later, we arrived at our apartment – complete with “The Sky Bed” (constructed only because without it the bed would likely comprise the entirety of the room). We found out later that night that supermarkets in Japan serve better food than most English restaurants, and so we slept soundly through the altitude sickness exerted by “The Sky Bed”.
The next day, apart from falling nearly eight foot from “The Sky Bed”, an exuberant Phoebe dragged Calum (our stray friend who apparently got India and Japan confused when flights were being booked) and myself out to Ikebukuro. The sensory overload of high pitched music, neon signs and the feeling of five hundred people brushing past my shoulder every few seconds was enough to send us into a building for cover. Alas, this turned out to be even worse as it was a Japanese arcade. Arcades in Japan are narrow, multi-storey buildings with about 200 prize grabber machines on each level (one of which a Japanese man had plugged in about 10,000 yen to get some naked lady on a towel – he seemed less than bothered by our incredulous stares, it almost spurred him on). There was a horse racing machine where you could buy a horse, feed it beer, watch its overall condition and then set it off in a race on a screen about twice the size of our apartment. It is this, along with the fact that every time that I go into a supermarket, I seem to have a chance of winning some sticker or packet of sweets, that has made me feel that Japanese people like to gamble.
It’s cherry blossoms in Japan. I know this because every supermarket and restaurant is coated in pink-flowered signs everywhere. The best bit about this is that everyone gets drunk in parks under the pretence of “flower watching”. We were down with this activity – the beer actually tastes good unlike the car crash of a beverage that Bintang beer is, and we had been introduced to Sake. Our initial excitement of Sake had ended after finding out that the giant 70 on the front of the can referred to the quality and not the alcohol content, though it was passable and lots of business men appeared to be tripping up over themselves after drinking lots of it so it couldn’t be all bad. The idea of an activity where you could sit on a tarpaulin snacking all day appealed to my companions and so we visited a few different parks during this time. I can report that they all pretty much looked the same after a bottle of sake.
Deciding, foolishly, that we could deal with more crowds, we decided to take a quick detour to Shibuya; home of a road and the fourth busiest train station in the world. After correlating a meet up plan which involved working out which of the 18 exits would be easiest to find (McDonalds was the landmark), we then walked out into a crossing where a pavement slowly begins to fill with people hopping from foot to foot until a green light is shown whereby a primitive kind of instinct causes people to cross the road with the dogmatic nature of a rhino. After plucking a blubbering Phoebe from a sharply dressed shoe stamping, we went and had fish on a Scalextric (conveyor belt… same thing). It was all fun and games until someone ordered what looked like prawn vomit on rice which was the food to send Calum (about as culinary adventurous as a goldfish) back to vegetarianism. In fairness, with phrases such as “fried hormone” and “cod sperm sack” flying around in the few English words on menus, it is an inevitable truth that we would all begin to gravitate towards McDonalds and start pawing at the doors. We felt this was enough Tokyo for one week, and with our regurgitated fish food and rice wine lined bellies, we took the demi-semi-hemi express train back to the sanctitude of “The Sky Bed”.
From Alec, Phoebe, Calum and a rather naive little pufferfish.