Sunday, 10 April 2011


One of Stevie Wonder's great albums, is that. Now I'm leaving Tokyo come Tuesday morning my time, and tonight will be my last sleep in my bed of the past few months. So although I'll try to avoid getting too reflective or melancholy or even spiritual, à la Stevie, thought it might be worth writing a little something tonight, even if just to counteract my last post's rather 'down' feel. But there'd be no Innervisions without 'Living for the City', which is a nice title but a black tale (in more ways that one) of living in a city when everything you've got just keeps going down. And so - here, and not in order of to-be-missed-most, after a swinging (almost) three months, is what I'll be missing come Wednesday...

1.) All The People I Didn't Meet
Trust me, they seem pretty cool. And pretty nice, too. We could even just go with pretty. There are a helluva lot of them round here, this being one of the most densely populated collections of metres cubed in the world, so the minuscule but hardly insignificant fraction that I did shake the hands of, say hello to or share a drink with will have to be my representative for the rest. I'd have liked to have been able to speak to more of them with a bit more fluency, but we've coped on both sides, and it's been fun. I'll be back one day, and I get the feeling most of these folk think they're on to something here, and won't be leaving anytime soon.

2.) All The People I Did Meet
From the comedians to the cougars, the bartenders to the bachelors, the waitresses to the weight-lifters, I think I've had fun with most of you all along the way. I'm not quite sure who that apostrophe's addressing, as I haven't spread the word about this here blog around those whose antics may feature in it - rude, perhaps? Over-protective? Not sure, but no complaints so far. To all those who laughed that extra bit loudly at the open mic nights, to all those who put up my hour-long lunch-breaks and inability to use Photoshop, to all those who smiled wearily when I went to eat even more toast... Why thank you. It's been charming. 

3.) The Toasty Mornings
For most of my stay here, that 'toasty' has been only in the sense (and it may be a new one) of 'involving toast'. The temperature when I'd crawl out of bed before work in the not-so-early a.m. was hardly balmy, even once I'd switched on the heater. But the prospect of golden peanut (butter) cream melting on just-so toasted bread was enough to get my down to the bathroom and under the hopefully-not-radioactive water in enough time that I could probably enjoy my coffee and Kindle time. And did I mention the toast? Also - the quiet. Save for the occasional rattle of the early commuter fetching his coffee from the vending machine, those twenty-plus minutes were quietly nice.

4.) The Surreal All-Nights
Remember that scene in The Jungle Book, where all the apes are dancing to the tune of King Louie singing 'I Wan'na Be Like You'? That's how I moved in Womb, only one of the globe's top clubs, to the sound of Sasha, only one of the globe's top DJs. No regrets, obviously. But as if turning the lights on at the end of the night wasn't bad enough, leaving the club and discovering it was bright outside? I was in there for a little over six hours, and the walk back through Shibuya at dawn was enough to make me sure I'm going to miss this here place. And that was only one night... Throw in and indie gigs and some U.S. Marines and it's been swell.

5.) Day-To-Day
So getting up's not too bad and I can have a good time into the wee hours of the morning, but that wouldn't count for diddly if I couldn't get myself a hot coffee out of a vending machine or meet people by a statue of a dog or learn how to treat a green light the Japanese way or ride the subway to-and-fro or see all those cherry blossoms or just watch all these people in all of this city that just keeps on going - there's always more, and what earthquake are you worrying about? We're here for a good time, not a long time. But now I'm off and out. That'll be a 'sayonara', then, I guess. So long, Tokyo.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Cry

You know things aren't going well when it all gets a little bit worse after you leave work. It's not like today had even been a particularly exciting day at the office; I wrote another review of a movie I haven't seen, and watched some video of a Swiss girl writhing around on the floor with a guitar between her legs as some sort of preparation for writing another review, this of a contemporary dance piece. The walk back to my little room in Harajuku could even warrant the description pleasant, with the evening sun sliding down the sky and that summery feel in the air, the sort for cliched romance and mediocre poetry. But then I reached said little room, and switched on the laptop, and tried to rearrange my flight home, and just - why.

I'm quite partial to British Airways. I have no particular complaints, most of the time. But after three attempts to navigate their ridiculous system, and three unknown errors encountered only ever at the close of the process, I was lethargically miserable. So I contemplated my options, and noticed the word 'plate' was in 'contemplated', so set off with a heavy heart for dinner. A burger? No thank you. But there seemed no alternative.  I must resist! My heart had sunk, my tread was heavy, but my spirit was strong. So onwards. Across the road. Alas! A red light. Forced to wait. I could see a Thai restaurant across the way. A destination! My hunger began to rise; the sinking of my heart had depressed him too, but now he was awake, and he must be fed. To the food!

But what's this? A handshake from out of nowhere, an American accent, a Japanese face. Who are you? 'My name is Yujiro. I am standing as a candidate to become governor of Tokyo.' He was still holding my hand in his white glove. He spoke English with fluency, he even swore in the language, which was surprising in a way that's difficult to explain why. (I suppose we expect the West to have a monopoly on shit.) He was campaigning as a youthful force, throwing aside the old and the old-fashioned; Tokyo needs a new force to lead it out of the recent turmoil; he gave me a flyer, told me to look him up on Facebook; asked me how old Boris Johnson was, and told me he was young; so that's why England is doing well, apparently, except for our debts, of course.

He's got a video on YouTube, a little old I think, called 'Obama City and Democracy'. Play spot the influence all you like, but I liked him. Made my evening, perhaps. The name of his campaign? 'Change Tokyo'. After three weeks out of the city, I can see that already. It's changed. The peanut butter's moved about a metre down the shelf at my nearest convenience store. The Lindt shop, which I used to watch getting built, though I never knew then it was going to be a Lindt shop, has leapt from scaffolding and buzz-saws to polish and vacuuming. A whole new alleyway seems to have appeared in my neighbourhood - guess I never noticed that before, or maybe the earthquake stretched Harajuku out a little. And there's no dark chocolate and no lemon-flavoured Vitamin C drink cartons in the shops anymore. Where have they gone?

Tokyo scares me a little now. I was easing into it. I'd just got used to her ways; it's like I went to the bathroom and when I came back she'd changed  the colour of her eyeshadow. I didn't notice immediately, but then- what'd you do that for? The old way was quite nice. Well, no, not to offend, this isn't not nice, but... Why change? I was happy before. Now I'm just - unnerved. So, yes, I'm leaving. Next Tuesday, if B.A. gets its act together. A week early. Got other things to think about, like where to spend the next three, four years of my life. Finish work on Friday, which is the deadline for our first post-disaster issue. Look out for the film review if you get a copy. Would you be able to tell I hadn't seen it? I doubt it. You haven't noticed I've never actually been to Tokyo. Actually just been writing this from my bedroom at home.

You wouldn't come up with half this stuff from a bedroom in the south of England. Japan is way out like that. I think of it as a grand big, black-tie dress-coded cocktails-and-dinner party. Most of the time, I've felt like I was in a lounge suit and tie. A little out of place, but throw out some good one-liners - and even I managed at least one of those at the last open mic night - and everyone forgets about the slight wardrobe mishap and you're on your way to a good evening. Other times, it's like wearing a full-on wardrobe malfunction. Maybe even like turning  up in a wetsuit, flippers and a snorkel dangling out my mouth. Not so much feeling out of place as knowing your only options are to laugh or cry.

On the subject of inappropriate clothing, I certainly stood out strolling down the street in Okinawa on a Saturday night. You've got all these U.S. Marines out on the town, and it's then that you realise why these stereotypes exist - maybe you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but these guys were the real deal, these are the good ol' boys, according to what I'd been led to expect of a member of the American military. And then's there moi. The Marines can tell I'm not Japanese, and so can the Japanese, but in my close-fit leather jacket, my skinny jeans and my white shoes (natch), they can all sure tell I'm not a soldier either. Where you from, kid? England, I say. And back to Blighty soon.