I was in Tokyo a few days ago and loved it. It had buzz and a hustle about it but it was a polite, free spirited buzz and hustle. The whole time i was there i never heard a police car or an alarm or somebody shouting angrily and there are 30 million people living, working, or passing through it everyday. The Tokyo Metro map looks like a plate of spaghetti with an Imperial Palace in the middle of it but somehow it made sense and fitted together and worked. Somehow all of Tokyo fits together and works.
I saw a lot in Tokyo but i also saw nothing such is the size and scope of the place. I went to the Museum of Modern Art and the Musuem of Photography which were both awesome. I got invited to a tiny one room art gallery by Yuko who was staying in my hostel and having her first art exhibition in Japan. She was from Shikoku and couldn`t believe that i`d walked around it. I saw temples and Imperial Palace parks and islands and rivers and shopping centres and shopping malls and shopping districts and i think half of Tokyo is probably just shops.
I really liked Shibuya. Shibuya is probably what you think of first when you think of Tokyo. It`s a place where five roads all meet at one crossroads and the lights change and all the traffic stops and people walk out into the huge intersection as one swarm of human life while buildings covered in neon and giant TV screen loom over keeping watch. It`s Tokyo at its best and classic people watching territory.
And then there was beer. Lots of beer. There was a bar with no seats where all the drinks were 300 yen. There was a bar where i met a fat drunk Aussie and his equally fat drunk friends including an American who was wearing a wooly hat (it was 30 degrees everyday) who`d been in Tokyo for ten years "doing business, man, business". I met Peter in my hostel and we met one of his old friends and one of her friends and we drank in a cheap bar and then we drank in an expensive bar and then we drank in a bar where the owner "has love of the Manchester music" and he played Oasis and The Coral and The Stone Roses and then it got very hazy and i woke up at 6pm still a little drunk. Good times.
I had to change hostels as the one i was in was booked up in advance so i found a cheap capsule hotel. All Japanese capsule hotels come with the top floor as a communal bathroom/sauna where middle aged Japanese businessmen shower and bathe and chat. One middle aged Japanese business man got chatting to me and asked me if i was Buddhist as i`d done the Shikokuo hike.
"So, you are Christian then," he stated.
"No, i don`t have a religion. I did the hike because i like -"
"No religion. Ah, yes, this is problem in England. Many people crazy."
"Like John Lennon."
"Yes, he in Beatles and the go crazy and marry Ono Yoko and stay in bed for one week in Amsterdam and they make sex time and people with camera filming and they say they want peace. Crazy."
"And Paul McCartney angry when John Lennon die, yes?"
"Yeah, for sure. They were writing songs together for -"
"Because Paul McCartney know that John Lennon now more famous than him because John Lennon shot dead so Paul McCartney angry at this yes." And then he stood up from the plastic shower stool that all Japanese communal bathroom saunas have in abundance and washed his bollocks as if that was the end of the matter, which, of course, it was. You can`t really argue with a man washing his bollocks.
Other slighlty happily crazy things in Tokyo include the fact that the bathroom that the above conversation took place in had floor to ceiling windows meaning that you could look out from the ninth floor over Tokyo and the river below and people walking over the bridge could look up, squint slightly and think, "Is that man washing his bollocks?" In Tokyo you can buy all sorts of things from vending machines including juice, beer, food, pornography, socks and umbrellas. It`s illegal to smoke on the street but in a bar, restaurant or a train it`s no problem. Wonky.
Trains here are fantastic. The shinkansen (bullet trains) are as all trains should be. They travel at a speed reminiscent of a plane moments before it leaves the runway. They have 15 carriages each with 120 seats. They are simple clean speed machines and everybody uses them everyday. As i said to somebody yesterday here, "Japan - it`s like the future." I got another here to Hiromshima which is a chunky modern Japanese city.
Everybody knows Hiroshima. It must one of the most famous places in the world and everybody knows why. 8:15am August 6th 1945. 140,000 people. It exploded 600m above the earth smack in the middle of the city. There are lots of statistics and most of them mean nothing as they are too big to imagine. But today i walked around the Peace Park and Museum and saw the A-Bomb dome, one of the very few builings left in Hiroshima from that day, and read a few things that did mean something. The day after people started working around the clock to get things back up and running and within 24 hours electricity was restored to most parts of the annihalted city. Within three days the street cars were working again. Three days. This is what`s best about east Aisa. The search for the future. Nobody sits around doing fuck all for very long. There`s a rush to split from the past and get to someplace better and it creates and positive inviting atmosphere that i can`t get enough of. Today Hiroshima is a busy city full of life and full of itself whilst constantly remembering the past and promoting itself as the City of Peace.
Japan has been more than amazing. When i think of Japan i will always think of Shikoku. A part of me will always be in Shikoku and a part of Shikoku will always be with me. Japan is a mix of old and new, the past and the future, cities and mountains, beaches and farms and so many other memories, stupid observations and contrasts that i don`t have time to write about.
Tomorrow i`ll be in Fukuoka which was where i was at the start of my Japanese trip which is a good ending. After that the plan is simple. In the words of the Pet Shop Boys, Go West. From here it`s on to Korea and then China and then central Asia. Here`s to the future.