Published: May 11th 2006April 14th 2006
Privacy has never been of any real importance to us on this trip. Dorm beds are the norm or even 3 in a bed when Michael was here, but this is being typed in perhaps the coolest accomodation we have stayed in yet......a "Manga Cafe". This is a 24 internet cafe in which you hire a private (well it has half walls and a saloon door) booth for the night, complete with DVD, Play Station, bottomless soft drinks and, of course, broadband. Strangely and unexpectedly in Japan you have little choice when it comes to internet. No longer does the standard internet cafe (log on free for 15 mins when you buy a coffee, something that sounds so advanced back home) exist. Nope. No Skype, No cafe's, no phone booths and UK mobiles we have heard do not even work here. Japan is light years ahead of the rest of the world, although it made the one place we thought it would be easy to stay in contact really hard! ......So I'll sit in my reclining armchair and load photos until I dose off. Why hasn't this caught on else where in the world? These places are the best option. Not
to mention that a night in here is half the price of a budget hostel. And not a tatami mat in sight!
Tokyo is a land of sensory overload. We arrived on a bullet train from Kyoto and were immediatley lost in one of the busiest train stations on Earth - along with 2 million other rail users, presumably. Tonight we stay in this cafe in the red light district in Shinjuku where street-side neon signage and 50 foot plasma screens were invented and liberaly employed. The light pollution is such that the sky never really gets dark, and in its own way it is very beautiful. It buzzes. I like it. Big cities can get so monotonous when you see one after another; Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai.... Tokyo is unique. You would be forgiven for thinking you were in New York (There is even a Statue of Liberty in the Bay) apart from the occational shrine that may be rubbing shoulders with strip bars or "No Pants Restaurants" (I was quick to point out to Lara that it is in fact the staff who doff their slacks, not the customers - ask her for the doctor story when
you get a chance).
Anyway, we started in the Sony Building thinking we were about to glimpse the next stage in high tech revolution. We left somewhat disappointed (well andrew did) as the gaming floor was closed for renovation, so no robots for us then! Although we did catch a glimpse of products to be released. You will not believe the sound and quality of the new sony widescreens coming out. Its like watching TV in every film set location. Incredible.
After strolling around the fancy Ginza district where the toddlers are as trendy as their co-ordinating, prada bag wielding parents. We actually saw a 2 year old donning a backpack. I mean, for ony favour! What does a 2 year old need with a backpack? Not to mention the dressed up pets. Eventually we headed for neon central. It did not dissapoint. Sweeping swaths of skyscrapers and flasing neon blaze to the beat of live and recorded sales pitches. Girls run around in mini skirts and knee high socks whilst carrying the latest camera phones and lap dogs. Fast and expensive cars speed past - windows down, posing whilst there is almost a constant sound of gaming
machines in the Pachinko Parlours on every street corner. It is how I imagine LA of the East. The district of Shibuya is no less impressive. Shinjuko and Shibuya ARE the modern Japanese phenomenon. You would be forgiven for thinking that anyone over the age of 35 has been shipped off elsewhere as the neo-trendy fashionitas take over town. It is a shame that I appear to look like the leader of a Sunday School class with my big clumpy walking trainers and my shrinking jeans. Yes, travelling is not about being in a fashion show but I am not ashamed to admit that my wardrobe of "hot clothes" would not look out of place here. Instead, I am dressed in almost the exact same clothes (even down to my pants) that I have worn since Vietnam. Oh well, best do some sightseeing then....
After the night in the Manga cafe, and because check out was at 5am, we headed to Tsukiji Fish Market. The day begins early (like 3am) with the wholesale Tuna auction. We arrived at 5.30am with our trousers rolled up (not that mine need much help there!) and were greeted by fish porters racing through
the market with the freshest catch of the day going to the highest bidding restaurants. You need to keep your wits about you or else you are knocked onto your arse in the piles of guts, tuna heads and blood which liberally cover the floor. I never knew Tuna were so big. There are literally hundreds of Tuna lined up on the floor and they are MASSIVE. After deciding against an early morning sushi snack we headed East to climb to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan offices for a view of the City. Unlike yesterday you could actually see Mount Fuji. Typical!
It would not have been a proper city break without some shopping and Andrew purchased trainers from Justin T's favourite trainer shop - Dynamite Gordon eat your heart out - as I perused the various press cuttings. We then decided to take in the phenomenon that is "Love Hotel Hill". A weird and slightly disturbing area, this is a district where you can rent rooms by the hour for a "rest" or for 5 hours for a "stay". You go in and select your themed rooms - maybe a medieval castle or a middle eastern temple,
by hitting the corresponding button, in a similar way to a vending machine, and finally slip your money under a screen so no-one sees you and you do not see the cashier. Robert's your mothers brother andyou have scored yorself a "rest". Although these do obvioulsy have a seedy side they seem to be frequented a lot by teenagers. We spotted a couple looking decidely nervous as they walked in. I guess it is hard being a teenager in Asia. You live in a house with your parents until you get married and more often than not afterwards too, so not much chance for nooky with the whole of your extended family sharing one room.
Dinner in Tokyo was as hard work as the shopping. Japan is a land of the vertical. Everything goes up and where we are used to looking in shop windows you may have to search 6 floors up for the shop you need. That makes dinner a little odd. Although the obligatory plastic examples of the fare sit proudley displayed outside, back home we are all used to looking to see which place looks the nicest or the busiest etc, here you have no
idea. Most restaurants are 10 floors up or small exclusive Japanese buildings with closed shutters. You just have to be brave and plump for one hoping that it wont break the bank.
So that pretty much sums up Japan. If I had to describe Japan in 3 words I would say, rich, fashionable and extremely well organised. Even the homeless in Japan are organised. Cardboard boxes are made into fully covered houses. Some owners are fastidious enough to hang mirrors outside and we all know how important it is to remove your shoes before you climb inside your box, let alone wash and hang your laundry to dry on a plastic clothes line! There is definitely a market to improve the standard of accommodation in London for the homeless. If they would only not pee in their pants or wear their shoes inside their boxes. Seeing that just signifies Japan completely. I mean where else in the world can you put phone books in the phone booths which are not stolen or graffitied by kids. Let alone vending machines for cigarettes and beer on every street. Could you imagine!!! There is like a ZERO crime rate here. The Japanese
culture is interesting though and with the national psyche being one of complete privacy we glimpsed only a fraction of what life is like in this dizzying urban environment. It was definitely an eye-opener and beign so different from the rest of Asia was a welcome place to end our trip.
AND SO 5 MONTHS ON WE LEAVE ASIA. It seems like a very natural place to break the trip and come home and we are both as busy convincing the other that we do not want to come home as we are saying how much we miss our jobs and lives. It is all part of the journey I guess. And so the highlights...there are too many to list them all.....the culture, the food, the people, the sights, the rules of the road and transport and the weirdness. And the lowlights....the culture, the food, the people, the sights, the rules of the road and transport and the weirdness. At least hopefully in Australia I won't have to wee on my feet so much let alone in another canoe. Yes I have set myself up for you to poke fun at me when I get home but these are
real life events which happen to most girls (other than the canoe). I am yet to meet a felllow female traveller who can honestly say she has not peed on her feet at least once a day! Asia has seriously been one hell of a journey for both of us and it seems like a lifetime ago we stepped off the plane in Delhi. We have both learned so much about ourselves and each other. It is safe to say that we are not intrepid travellers who could dreadlock our hair, relinquish all natural instincts NOT to wear tie dye and teach English as a means of securing a future. I very much want to live in a house with 4 walls, with a TV, a comfortable sofa and a car parked in my driveway. I think both of us are no longer scared to say we want to come home early and we have definitely realised that being materialistic is NOT a bad thing. Just because we like washing regularly does not mean we do not have a healthy appreciation for other cultures. So many adventures, so many laughs and so many tears. Lets hope Asutralia will bring on
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