I had a spell of wet weather while in Tokyo, but I tried not to let it get in the way of things. On Sunday I met up with ever-helpful Paul and Takako and they gave me a quick tour of the area around Shibuya. Shibuya Crossing is, as Paul describes it, the picture postcard shot of Tokyo: tall buildings covered in video screens, traffic, the world’s busiest Starbucks, and a timed surge of humanity every few minutes when the whole intersection is given over to pedestrians as a giant scramble corner. (People in Saskatoon: remember those?)
I also got a picture of me at the statue of Hachiko, the little dog whose story is essentially that of Greyfriars Bobby from way back in Edinburgh: faithful hound who came to Shibuya station every day to await the arrival of his master and continued to do so after his master’s death, until his own death 11 years later. The statue is famous, and I hear the dog himself is preserved through the miracle of taxidermy at the National Museum.
Paul and Takako and I wandered around the area a bit, and they gave me the Coles Notes version on lots of different odd Japan things that we happened on, like game parlours (as distinct from pachinko parlours). The game parlours seem to be filled almost entirely with variations on the old “claw” machines where you try to pluck, nudge or otherwise persuade some article inside the case to drop into the chute below where you then claim it. There were the mandatory stuffed animals of all descriptions, but there were also silvery sort of briefcase things with skull-and-crossbones motifs, and in Kyoto I even stuff like boxes of Ritz crackers and bags of cookies in these machine, which seems like a really cumbersome way of doing your grocery shopping.
And there was the Taiko Hero game! Actually, I don’t know what it was really called. I call it Taiko Hero because it was just like Guitar Hero, but with Taiko drums. There were two drums in front of the machine and you had to bang away at them in sequence with the dots that scrolled past on the screen. Red dot meant bang the drum. Blue dot meant whack the edge. BIG red dot meant whack the drum really hard. And yellow seemed to mean go nuts on the drum for the duration of the dots.
I’m proud to report that even though Takako is Japanese and hence must have an inborn cultural advantage, and despite the fact that for half the game I thought that blue dot meant whack the SIDE of the drum, not the edge, it still ended up being Canada 55,570 - Japan 43,370. The Maple Leaf forever!
After that vigorous session of taiko drumming we visited a store called Tokyu Hands, which was one of a chain of enormous crafty-ish stores that carried a little bit of everything. There were seven floors and they stocked pet and garden supplies, knitting stuff, sewing notions, fancy stationery, ordinary stationery, games, puzzles, cell phone accessories and ornaments, kitchen, bath and linen supplies, luggage, rubber stamps, stickers, foot care products, tools, building materials, Father’s Day gifts, travel gadgets, and on and on and on. It was a bit overwhelming, but at least it was out of the rain, and I was able to pick up a gift and some origami paper.
Eventually we made our way up to Harajuku, an area that’s normally famous for the cos-play people that come out on the weekends to strut their stuff in weird and wonderful costumes. However, did I mention it was raining? Well the cos-play gangs don’t tend to come out when it’s wet, for fear of matting their fun-fur or streaking their hair dye or something, so there wasn’t much living scenery that day. We did have fun poking around a ¥100 Shop (Japanese dollar store) and then Paul and Takako delivered me, on time, to my next appointment of the day. I tell you, I’m a freakin’ social butterfly in Tokyo.
This appointment was a GSRED first. For the first time I was to meet someone who knew me only through the blog. Charles found GSRED through a link at the Tom Bihn site (the company that makes the Aeronaut, the bag I’ve carried around the world, and to which I have referred many times). He wasn’t related to me, or a friend, or someone who’d been referred to the blog by one of those two classes of people, and those are the only three kinds of readers that I’ve really considered might exist. So when Charles sent me an email saying that he’d been reading the blog and lived in Japan and would be happy to help me out with Japan stuff if I needed it, or even just go for a coffee or beer, I figured I should take him up on that.
I’ll admit I was a bit nervous because you really never know when someone is going to turn out to be a mouth-breathing, cyber-stalking freak. But then I realized that I’d just spent the better part of a year meeting and drinking beer with total strangers, so there was no reason I should exclude this guy just because he’d been taken the trouble to read my blog, and apparently liked it. Actually, the fact that he likes the blog is a sign of great intelligence and discernment. You should all give yourselves a pat on the back for being such a high-brow crowd.
And of course it all turned out fine. Great, in fact. We got along right away and spent most of the afternoon hanging around chatting. Charles is a teacher from the States who’s lived in Japan long enough to be fluent in the language and, I think, to call it home. He had a lot of interesting stuff to relate about life in Japan, and about his travels (the Galapagos Islands! Cool!). We talked about my travels too, and what it feels like now that they’re almost over. (Unreal. Sad. A relief.) Most people who hear about my trip ask me what my favourite place was, but Charles asked me something no one else has asked yet: “If you could go back to one place before your trip was over, just for a short while, where would you go?” (Ireland. I missed too much there. Like pretty much the whole country). And I told him something weird that I realized recently: I can’t remember what my socks look like. Not the ones I’m wearing, obviously. I mean the dozen or so pairs of non-traveling, non-quick-dry, normal, everyday socks that are waiting for me in a suitcase in Winnipeg. This was an oddly disorienting realization.
We talked over coffee and then over lunch, and Charles took me to a big bookstore with a large selection of English books. This was lucky because my latest disposable paperback was almost finished and I needed something to tide me over until I got back to English-land. It all ended up being a great afternoon, and I feel like I met a good friend. Thanks for not turning out to be an axe murderer, Charles!
On Monday I’d hoped to spend the day outside Tokyo in the Hakone region, which is full of nice scenery and wacky forms of transport like switchback railways, funiculars, cable cars and cruise boats that look like Disney pirate ships. But that kind of thing is no fun in the rain so instead I decided to stick around Tokyo. My first stop was to be the famous tuna auction at the Tsujiki fish market, where ten thousand dollar fish are auctioned off at an ungodly hour every morning. It’s supposed to be fascinating, and the sashimi is as fresh as it comes. But if you’re plugged in to the Tokyo tourist scene at all you know that the tuna auction has been closed to tourists, off and on, for months. Apparently the crowds got a bit out of control and some particularly gormless and half-witted tourists actually got in the way of the buyers while trying to pose for photos, and some even touched the fish, so you really can’t blame the Tsujiki people for being touchy about things.
They’ve now decided to limit the number of people allowed to view the auction every day and restrict them to a particular viewing area, so you have to get in early to get a spot. Very, very, very, very early. The auction starts at 5:00 am, so I got up at 4:00 and got a cab (because of course the subway does not run at that hour). When I got there it was immediately obvious that what the LP said was true. This is not a place for tourists. This was an enormous, working fish market with big trucks everywhere and zillions of foam coolers full of every imaginable species of fish and little motorized carts zooming all over. I was trying very hard to stay out of the way of those little carts, but then one of them pulled right up to me and the driver turned around and told me to hop on! The guy was incredibly friendly and zipped me right through the whole warehouse kind of place to where the tuna auction is held, at the back. It was really really cool.
In fact, it was by far the coolest part of the morning, because I quickly found out that the spaces to see the tuna auction were all full. And then there was a Japanese security guard type guy with a hat and a walkie-talkie who seemed to be telling everyone that the whole area was closed and could we all please bugger off. And then there was a huge lineup of people at the place I assumed to be the sushi shop. It was at this point that I decided to give up and start my day over. So I legged it to the nearest metro station (which was running by this time), went back to my hotel, and went back to bed. I didn’t even get any photos. It was a total bust.
When my day started for the second time it was still raining, but I was much happier. I spent a pleasant, slow afternoon doing a bit of souvenir shopping in the Asakusa area, near the famous Asahi Brewery. I say it’s famous, but really I think it’s only notable for the gigantic golden statue of a sperm on the top of the building.
That night I had weird food, and then suddenly it was my last full day overseas. More on that in another post, along with as many random observations about Japan as I can remember and make worth reading about. For now let’s leave me content but damp after two days of rain.