George Carter
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Japan ’08 – Day 6

| Friday 8th August, 2008

It was Saturday and Tokyo was a completely different city. With the exhausted salarymen crashed out in their suburban homes, there was a distinct air of kicked-back-ness.

We had a plan to visit three distinct regions… Yoyogi, Harajuku and West Shinjuku for a daytime trip up the metropolitan government building. On looking at the map, we realised that these places weren’t all that far apart from each other and decided (slightly foolishly, it turned out) to walk between them.

Yoyogi station brought us into, strangely enough, Yoyogi park. In a place as short on space as Tokyo, it was a real surprise to find a 175 acre forest, but that’s exactly what we found. In 1912, the Japanese parliament dedicated a shrine to Emperor Meiji – he of the Meiji Restoration when Japan opened its borders and modernised to what we see today. People from all over Japan donated their time and their saplings and the forest was planted. In the subsequent near-century, it has matured into a bona-fide forest. Impressive.

Everything around the shrine is grand. The torii gates are the height of four-storey buildings. The emperor was, apparently, partial to a little bit of the old happy juice and so a liquid donation was made by several French wineries and Japanese sakeries (warning: not a real word) with barrels adorning the sides of the path.

We met a very chatty gentleman – I think he’d clocked we were not Japanese (a simple task) and wanted to practice his English. He was very knowledgeable and was interested in where we’d been and where we were going to. In fact, it was here that our itinerary would begin to change, but for now we chatted about emperors and earthquakes and fish and things like that. We explained we were going to Harajuku next, and he asked why we’d be going there. I began to explain about popular culture over here and he stopped me, rummaged in his bag and brought out a Dictaphone. I was interviewed about Harajuku.

I seem to remember he was a teacher, and I assume he wanted a recording to play to his class. I hope so, anyway. We bade farewell and headed out of the other end of the park which brings you neatly to Harajuku, spiritual home of Japanese youth culture.

This is where gang culture is absolutely rampant, though the worst the gangs will do is look slightly condescendingly at the choice of clothes of a rival gang member. We spotted the eighties gang and the rock gang and the frilly gang and the dirty-old-men-ogling-the-pretty-girls gang.

I went in a shop and bought some nonsensical t-shirts bearing such wisdom as “Luck Is Given To The Person Who Is Enjoying The Ball” and “The RIDERS the NATURE have known, FUNKY BLANKEY MONKEY.” Only a fiver each, what a bargain.

Now, the aforementioned folly. That was the bit where we walked from Harajuku to Shinjuku. You see, Tokyo is made up of lots of little town centres, most of them on the Yamanote line – did I mention the Yamanote line yet? Between the town centres is, essentially, urban suburbs if that makes any sense at all. So after the first street, they were all pretty much the same, and it was a long walk. We had headed south from Yoyogi, through the park to Harajuku, and now had to head north again. In the oppressive, humid heat it was, as I said, a long walk.

A great bonus, though, as we approached Shinjuku, we spotted the Sunflower Building. I’ve already mentioned how difficult addresses are in Toyko, and we knew that the all you can deep-fry place was in the Sunflower Building, but didn’t know where the Sunflower Building was, except now we did, it was in front of us.

Location noted, we walked through the skyscraper district for our second trip up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) Building, this time in daylight. It was good to be able to pick out some things we’d actually visited this time.

Drinking fountains. I forgot to mention them. All over Tokyo are drinking fountains. It’s wonderful to be able to take a free drink and/or top up your water bottle in any park/open space/public building/street corner. Well done Tokyo.

After our aerial views, and copious use of the TMG Building drinking fountain, we descended the 45 floors and made our way to the Sunflower building and thence up to the 8th floor for our deep-fry fun.

“O KYAKU SAMA DE~!”, the Maitre D’ shouted. (“There’s a customer”)

“IRRASHAIMASE!!!!” came the shout from every single member of staff. (“WELCOME!”)

Whenever any customer appeared, this cry would go up. There were lots of other call-and-answer things going on… “What do we say in the morning?” “GOOOOOD MORNING!!!!!!” It was certainly a lively place.

The all-you-can-deep-fry place was fascinating and Would Not Work™ in Britain. There are too many ways to die:

  1. A deep fat fryer sunk flush with every table. One spill of a drink could send boiling fat into the air.
  2. A deep fat fryer sunk flush with every table. When they’re not frying they look very, well… calm. It would be easy to forget that’s it’s VERY HOT and put your finger in and NEARLY DIE.
  3. Raw food and self cooking. The threat of food poisoning, while very low in Japan on the whole, is very real. You’re handling raw food, cooked food and salad so proper coordination of plates and implements is important.
  4. Even if you survive the visit, the huge coronary you’ll suffer later is worth considering.
  5. …and the shock of the cleaning bill to get the smell of deep fat frying out of your clothes. Let’s just say, don’t turn up in your Sunday best, eh?

Almost certain death on so many counts

But it was oh so good, and we found our first tentacle. With suckers on and everything. It was hiding in a dumpling.

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