Sunday, May 8, 2011

Myoden and Yakult

I’ve just had a holiday as the past week has been Golden Week in Japan. I’m not sure why it’s called Golden Week (i haven’t seen any gold in the past seven days) but everybody gets a three day national holiday and if you’re lucky, like me, you can join up the dots, connect the weekends and get nine days off work.

Golden Week is, apparently, pretty mental in a normal year with people travelling here there and everywhere in search of fun, friends and family. This year is a little different though as a lot of people didn’t want to have too much of a good time after March and April and so Japan, at times, is a bit sombre at the moment. I think it may take a while to fully get its mojo back.

I did some hiking for the first time here at a place called Tsukuba and climbed the cute little mountain of the same name on a hazy Monday which was all a train ride and small bus journey north east of Tokyo. It was a nice hike, the mountain peppered with trees, rocks and old people as well as a cable car that slugged the sluggish to the summit. I’ve been hiking a bunch of times in different countries but realised something for the first time on this one. People always say hello to each other and smile and seem friendly when they’re on the mountain but then when everybody gets back to the bus stop and the train station people don’t even make eye contact with the same hikers that they smiled at amongst the trees and the sweat. We all just sit in silence, plug the headphones in, push buttons, re-read text messages and generally avoid everybody as soon as we get back to busy streets, buildings and transport.

I went to Doki Doki Flea Market the next day which was definitely not the kind of place where you can say hello to complete strangers. There were too many of them. Thousands. It was the biggest car boot sale second hand flea market thing i’ve ever seen. I saw more random crap being hawked than ever before. It's only held once a year during Golden Week and it seems some of the traders selling stuff had spent the previous twelve months not throwing anything away but saving it for the first week in May. One man was selling, amongst other things, an inflatable sofa, a surfboard, a sword, some roller skates and a Mickey Mouse alarm clock. I always feel the same at these kinds of places. I never want to buy anything. I just want to stop and ask the owner of the car boot or stall to tell me the back story of how they came to own such a random collection of objects.

I also went with a few mates to my first game of baseball in Japan which quickly made me realise that there’s one thing that Japanese baseball is very good at. Names. No other sport i know of has such amazing names. Take, for example, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Hiroshima Toyo Carp or, the team we went to see, Tokyo Yakult Swallows. I like the way they’ve done these names with a quick Place Name-Sponsor Name-Random Animal or Noun combination. You can make your own. It’s easy. Edinburgh Tesco Elephants. Moscow Shell Oil Pirates. Islamabad Del Monte Pineapple Tornadoes. See? Thankfully, i quite like Tokyo, Yakult and Swallows and i also like what the Tokyo Yakult Swallows fans do when their team scores. From nowhere and without any kind of warning thousands of people all open small pink or green umbrellas and dance with them and start singing. I would love to know the back story to that as well but as we were surrounded by people and not trees we didn’t really strike up a conversation and ask anybody. The Swallows lost by the way, heavily beaten by the Dragons from Nagoya sponsored by Chunichi.

I think i’ll go back to watch the Swallows play again. It’s on a list called Stuff To See And Do In Japan that gets ever longer and will probably never be conquered. The more you see, the more you want to see more. When’s the next holiday?

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