This entry comes to you from Tokyo. The feeling of the city, the culture, the spirit of it, is very different to Osaka. Firstly as my friend pointed out, people stand left and walk right on the escalators. Secondly, foreigners abound and congregate unsettlingly at popular places like Akiba and Harajuku. I realise I’m a gaijin myself and am therefore contributing to the pollution (part of the traffic jam, as it were), but Westerners can be so rude, so loud and obnoxious and close-minded. Compared to the quiet, dignified, humble, friendly and above all courteous Japanese, it is a stark contrast. I will truly miss being here.
Our apartment in Tokyo is beautiful. It has the sliding doors, tatami floors (with the trimmings that my belt is made from!) and heated kotatsu (table) of my imaginings. I spend my nights sleeping on a futon, or as the case may be, blogging at 5am because (for once) I can’t fall asleep inside of a minute.
After settling in, the first major district we went to was Shibuya (boo-yah!). It’s hard to express just what’s so special about being in the popular shopping areas of Japan – there’s a special combination of people wearing business suits, skyscrapers on all sides, neon lights, giant flatscreens, the artificial birdcalls of the traffic lights, the odd girl in lolita or the beautiful madam dressed in a kimono… It all mixes together to make something beautifully charming, invigoratingly Japanese. That, and just about every store you go into has six floors of merchandise. The Disney-store in particularly was very charming, with walls painted like Wonderland, familiar tunes and a rather impressive Toy Story setup.
It was also really great to see the statue of Hachiko, the akita (dog) who used to walk with his master to the train station every day. When his master died (possibly during the first world war?), Hachiko continued to walk to the station daily and wait for his master’s return, year after year, until he too perished at last. Today the statue serves as a popular place to wait for friends before heading out.
We went to the Ghibli museum, which was truly a delightful affair. It is more than just giant Totoro statues and short film clips: it is a world of enchantment, the dream of a studio mainly lead by the brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki. It was as if slices of this creative vision had been preserved in the concept art decorating the walls, the hand-painted stills, the technology of light and filmography and the replica of the animation studios where the work is done. The Strawhat Cafe, while a touch on the expensive side, was novel and charming. My favourite part of the museum (by far) was the theatre where we had tickets to see an original Ghibli short-film about sumo mice. Dare I say, that ten minute clip is my favourite Ghibli film yet. Their sumo was absolutely spot on, and it invoked such a strong emotional response that Beth and I started applauding afterwards and got a fair portion of the audience to join us (which I suspect is uncommon in Japan).
This was also the day that it snowed heavily in Japan – the most there’s been in 45 years, I think. I used the enchanting atmosphere to propose ahead of schedule, and then proceeded to throw snowballs at Craig and Bethwyn on the way to the museum. It was magical, truly, as the snow came down like icing sugar, melting instantly when exposed to body-heat but coating everything in a light dusting of powder. I (barely) resisted the urge to make a snow angel (though we noticed several snowmen, including one with gloves. I was especially delighted to use my umbrella, which I relished shaking off with a cheeky flick and a quick yukiburi. The snow came thick and fast all throughout the day and night, and by the next morning everything (even, for once, the ground) was covered in either snow, ice or the sludgy in-between. It was actually quite unstable and dangerous, and workers appeared en-masse to shovel the snow enough to create a path to prevent people slipping and sliding all over the place in their high heels on their way to work.
That’s it for now but I’ll write again soon. Salaam!