Tokyo Tantrums

Japan ~ Tokyo – 2015

Tokyo has a big city sort of reputation to it, an air of grandeur accompanied with a sense of mystery somewhere within the non-stop luminous glare of the lights and the 24/7 rush…

So many films have painted a picture that has made an impression on me, and because of this it was high on the list of places I wanted to see…so when I realised I had a long weekend coming up I didn’t hesitate and booked it up straight away! Just a couple of hours to get from my home in Korea to the unknown world beyond – armed with nothing but a friend’s recommendations (which proved invaluable) and a feeling I was soon to be in my very own Lost in Translation remake…

Lost Trans GIF

Sidenote: when travelling you really do need to think long and hard about who you will actually travel with. Well maybe not too thorough – nothing too ridiculous, but at the very least you need to see a clean bill of health (both physical and mental), a criminal background check, and dental records. Also check their voice and typical conversation topics as otherwise you may be locked in with the most boring groaner on the planet – which is never going to be fun. With this particular adventure I was meaning to go alone originally, and then at the last minute a lady friend of mine tagged along…which brought some erm, shall we say – complications? 

Anyway I mean this sincerely when I say that Tokyo is a marvel. So much to see and do, a far cry from the more reserved and traditional parts of Japan I had visited earlier in the year.  But oddly I found it manages to retain a fantastic balance between the two often conflicting sides; you see one second I’d be staring up at a 60 foot tall science fiction juggernaut in the form of the powerful Gundam, the next I was wearing a traditional yukata and relaxing in an onsen…then I’d blink and be back to the mad rush of the Shibuya scramble crossing! I was completely in my element, roving around searching for the weird and wonderful, straining my neck to try and see as much as I possibly could…it was everything I had dreamed about for so long, and so much more…

Shibuya GIF

But yeah: the ghost at the feast…the wasp at the picnic…the drunk and slightly creepy uncle at the family reunion. Hmm, that last one was a bit weird, but you get my point – this is the part of the story where I say what didn’t go so smoothly, and most of it had to do with my travel companion: hence my warning earlier. You see I try my utmost to remain as friendly and light hearted as possible during trips, as from experience I understand that it can be a pretty stressful period if you let the small things seep in and truly affect you…if you do that suddenly the foul smell of a certain street, the incessant honking of horns on the road, or perhaps even your friend’s breathing can have you suddenly enraged beyond all comprehension: like smashing an axe into a locked door screaming “heeeeere’s Johnny!”  sort of level rage. So it’s best to take a deep breath instead, and just let most hiccups roll off your back…

However, my lady friend didn’t share this ethos…which meant that any small thing became the reason for a monumental day-ruining mood. Juxtapose that dark rain cloud along with my attempted cheery sense of humour and you had quite a pairing; something like if Voldemort was to meet one of the Teletubbies. Well actually that’s unfair (to he who must not be named): it would only be like that if Voldemort had the emotional range to both grimace and groan about public transport, and literally burst into tears about the levels of salt in Japanese food…as it stands I don’t think he is quite on her level yet.

I can understand the frustration though, Tokyo is huge and it’s far too easy to become dazed and confused by the sprawling subway system: which I honestly think was designed by someone throwing spaghetti at the wall, and saying: “that’ll do just fine.” We took many wrong turns during our days there, and the hours were long and well travelled…but I don’t see how it helps remaining silent or dragging your feet along as if you are a pathetically non-threatening zombie, or almost defunct robot:

Robot GIF

There is an answer to such problems though, and one which I will gladly share with all of you…and that is; beer. Yes, you heard it here first! The golden elixir is the perfect remedy to all sorts of ailments, including the frustration you may feel when a friend (or something more) is becoming more than you can bear. Thankfully there was a so-called “English pub” just off a side street near to the Shibuya crossing…where for three times the normal price I could enjoy beer, ales, and all that good stuff as if I was back amongst the smoke and laughing guffaws of my homeland…“Wait, it’s how much?! Jesus tap-dancing Christ!? It’s not worth that!”

But yeah, that’s how things go! Ups and downs, smiles and frowns…you have to take the good with the bad, and try to carve out memories that will last: and despite all the issues we were still able to do that…pretty much.

However I must now look for an AA meeting in South Korea: so yeah, wish me luck. 

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The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

Curtain GIF

Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

Unbelievable GIF

There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

Smug GIF

I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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