Well, after one full day in Tokyo I will hold my hands up and admit that this is a baffling mixture of cultures, creeds and manic modernity.
Individually the people are incredibly helpful and try ever so hard to make your life easier. But once you corral them on a train then all the rules change. Today I saw a salaryman swaying and nearly falling over, clearly absolutely hammered, even though it was eleven in the morning and yet his fellow travellers simply ignored his state and carried on regardless.
Fortunately there were barriers to stop him falling onto the tracks until a train pulled up, and he then staggered into a carriage and slumped on the first available seat.Yet when I have stopped and stared fairly hopelessly at metro maps and then up at the signage ahead of me I have regularly been asked if I needed any assistance.
The trains are busy most of the time, and the passengers all appear to be office based. Unlike London where the tubes are filled with people from all walks of life, and indeed every race, colour and ethnicity, here the foreigners stand out. Because of the time of year (late October) the tourist hordes have departed and that is a fantastic bonus.
Apart from anything else, it means that when you get hopelessly lost or stuck, then people take pity on you rather than just going “right, another bloody foreigner!”
The weather at this time is also a major plus, a pleasant 22-25C or 72-80F during the day and not too humid either. At night it becomes a very acceptable 12-14C (mid fifties Fahrenheit) and so you can sleep without the need for air conditioning.
Food is totally baffling and so far I have been a bit of a coward, I had some kind of huge steamed dumpling at lunch time. It was pleasant enough, but I have absolutely no idea what the filling was. It could have been anything from beancurd to minced yak, the main thing was that it was quite acceptable and filled me.
This evening I tried some “assorted fish” accompanied by “rotted bean mixture”. You will have to forgive the descriptions, but that is all my online dictionary would tell me. Nevertheless my host, Eiichi assured me that it was good and as he was happily eating it I put my faith in him not to poison me.
I am happily working my way through mounds of satsumas and fruit also and am clearly heading towards a much less meat intensive diet over the next two weeks.
When I showed my host where I had been that day he was not surprised that my legs and feet were tired. The Meiji Jingu Shrine was definitely the highlight, and the fact that there had been a Shinto ceremony was apparently something special. I do know that when one of the priests strolled up to this huge drum which was about 8 or 10 feet in diameter and then gave it a massive belt (technical term here) I nearly jumped out of my skin.
There was also the opportunity to cleanse yourself by pouring fresh spring water over your hands and face and then mouth, before spitting it out. You did this using bamboo ladles and I watched a couple of dozen people so as to be able to imitate them and not cause too much of a cultural rumpus. Then on into the Shrine itself which is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his consort. Despite the large numbers of visitors (probably 95% Japanese) it was clearly a place of reverence and so it seemed right to give a small offering and then bow twice, clap twice and bow once more whilst thinking of those you love.
I have not even touched on the madness of Harajuku where hip young fashionistas shop crazily, nor the Tamagotchi store, no doubt they will appear later on in my ramblings. Let’s just say that by this time my feet were aching and it was time to head home.
Fortunately I managed to beat the worst of the rush hour, but Japanese are clearly used to spending far more time standing than I am. My last metro ride was getting close to the famous sardine time and I figure that I will keep a careful eye on the time tomorrow.
Finally, in my list of “What’s to love” I give you a Japanese bath. Not the famous communal stuff, but a glorious soak in a high tech tub to ease away the aches in those legs. Now that is something for me to bear in mind when we spec up a new house.
There is something quite spectacular about soaking away with a gentle addition of warm water to make sure the bath doesn’t go cold on you. And no, I still haven’t tried out any of the additional features of the toilet yet. Put me down as a scaredy cat!