Back from Japan

Somewhere over Siberia, I looked out of the window. Below me were snow-covered mountains; to the west, the sun was setting over the horizon, turning the clouds below me a beautiful blood-red. Above, the sky was totally clear, and from the horizon upwards the colours went from red to yellow to blue to purple to black. The glare from the sun on the jet-engine housing in front of me nearly blinded me as I stared, transfixed, at one of the most incredible sight I’d ever seen.

And then, I started to cry.

Coming home from holiday, as I’ve written before, is one of my least favourite things in the world, even when you do have the best view in the world out of your little plastic window. This time, it was even worse, and I’m still not entirely sure why.

I’ve wanted to visit Tokyo for as long as I can remember – as a kid, the idea of an immense, futuristic city filled with neon and skyscrapers and video arcades sounded like the best thing ever; as I grew up, the Japanese culture and way of life came to fascinate me more and more. Tokyo is portrayed, in so many ways, as the archetypal “foreign” city, as so completely unlike anything in the West; and in some ways, that’s true. In some ways, though, it’s “just” a big city – I mean, it’s a really big city – but you get skyscrapers and backstreets in loads of places, not just Tokyo.

It’s inevitable, I guess, that on my first morning I was somewhat underwhelmed (sorry Nayf). I went for a wander round Shinjuku. Shinjuku is in two halves – one half is a business district with some seriously huge skyscrapers; the other is a cramped array of neon-filled streets and shops that provided the inspiration for the look of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It was pissing it down with rain most of the day, I was suffering slightly from jetlag and even though it was very impressive to be able to reach the 51st floor of a building in about 30 seconds and look out across the city, I couldn’t see a damned thing because of the mist blocking the view. There were too many goddamned people and they all seemed to be acting like I didn’t exist. I was tired and irritable and I think Shinjuku was, on reflection, probably not the best idea for my first day.

I think the point when I realised I’d fallen in love with Tokyo was on the way home from Karaoke on the third or fourth evening – I can’t remember exactly which night we went out, but it was for my brother’s birthday, and we’d gone out with his colleagues (most of whom seemed to come from Manchester and at least one of whom actually lived just around the corner from me in Chorlton) for drinks and a bit of a party.

(It’s worth breaking off here to point out that Japanese Karaoke is nothing like English: rather than setting it in a bar and forcing you to sing in front of loads of strangers whilst your mates ridicule you, it’s a far more intimate, bonding, social experience. You rent out a little booth thing which sits about 10 people; in the corner is a TV and a complicated looking video machine type thing, and suspended from the ceiling is a sound system far too loud for the size of room you’re in. There are a couple of microphones, and several thousand songs to choose from. The drinks are included in the price of the room – about 25quid per person for four hours – and it is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on)

Anyway; I’d had the time of my life, and through the beer-tinted fog I looked back over the couple of days I’d been there and realised that, actually, I loved it. Despite the fact I’d spent the first day getting soaked and angry and the fact that as a foreigner in Japan you are treated like a third-rate citizen and the fact that the trains are always full of drunken salarymen and the fact that all the schoolkids just annoy the hell out of you… I can’t explain it. I want to go back; I will be going back.

Anyway. It’s lunchtime now and my girlfriend is bugging me. I’d better go. I shall write mroe later.

4 Responses to “Back from Japan”

  1. Lori says:

    Your girlfriend is bugging you? Do you mean she’s getting on your nerves or nagging you? Or both? Actually, don’t answer that.

    When do we get to see the photos?

  2. Clive says:

    I’m not fond of air travel; it feels like teleporting, missing out everything between origin and destination. Driving through the Home Counties, down to Dover, then across the continent to reach somewhere in Germany feels like much more of an adventure than simply popping on the plane and emerging 45 minutes later.

    And you can prolong the holiday on the way back, by stopping off places and seeing a few more things; the sense of return to normal life is more gradual.

    Of course, I’m not actually suggesting you drive to Tokyo…

  3. Chris says:

    Bugging me to have lunch.

    And I wouldn’t have so much of a problem driving to the continent if I had a car that I trusted to go more than, say, 25 miles without exploding in a big cloud of bolts and oil (which, incidentally, I should have by the end of the week, maybe). Driving to Tokyo might take a little longer though, involving, as it does, crossing Russia. Which is, y’know, quite big.

  4. nayf says:

    Well, Japan’s loss is our gaijin for the time being, eh? EH?!