The Wire. Hell, what can I say about The Wire which hasn’t already been said a thousand times on a thousand blogs? It was always one of those series which I meant to watch until I actually got around to watching it… and that was it, had no choice but to burn through the first series in a week. It’s worse than crack, but it’s undoubtedly the best television series ever made. No question.
So apart from spending my last few days in Japan (Day 294/307 – 12 days left) watching a series I can watch anywhere, what have I been up to since climbing that monster-ass Fuji?
The day after we got back, I said goodbye to my dear friend and renowned jazz trumpeter Miles Davies, who is even as I write far away in gloomy Brum serving up creamy desserts to Cadbury’s World patrons, or whatever it is he does.
Then I’m not sure what I did next. Like McNulty and co., I am reduced to sifting through photographs, old text messages, and Facebook updates to try to undercover the story of what happened.
The Sunday after, we visited Harajuku … or we tried to. Yeah, been here ten months, and I still forget that Harajuku is north of Shibuya up Meiji-dori, not south. So we walked for a long time, wound up in Ebisu tired and confused, and eventually just got the Yamanote Line to Harajuku, which we should have done in the first place. We found a cool little shop called Chicago that sells all kinds of second-hand clothing, including cheap kimonos. I agonised for about ten seconds before setting 7,000 yen down on a supremely manly brown silk kimono, juban (undershirt), obi (belt) and happi (overcoat used for festivals). Now I have one, I obviously need to hit a few summer matsuri to show the thing off. I’m hoping the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival – on the very final Saturday before we fly out on Monday – will be a beautiful experience.
On Wednesday, I packed Jade off to a wicked little guesthouse/hotel in Koenji- dirt cheap and got everything you need. There’s even a Tesco’s nearby, which proves that Tesco have got stores everywhere. (Seriously, never seen one in Japan before.)
We had a wander around the cosy little district around there, which is a world away from the dispassionate bulk of Shinjuku or the straight-laced streets of Fuchu. Koenji is sort of old and dirty, but vibrant and beautiful at the same time. We headed a little way down the line to find the Asagaya Art College.
We also did some good planning for the final few weeks here. It will be hard to cram everything in, but I want to try. I’m going to attempt a jaunt to Osaka/Kyoto in the final week via night bus and capsule hotel, which should be a lark.
I had a big old clear out in preparation for leaving, dumping all these old receipts and worksheets I had no use for. Felt good.
Friday I met Rob, Hime, and Rob’s デカイ Russian friend Alex for lunch at this funky Russian restaurant in Kichijoji. Funnily enough, it’s the second Russian restaurant I’ve been to, but the first time I’ve had Russian cuisine.
Ah, it was so good. Beetroot soup, sweet and warming; a Cornish pasty-like side, and a kind of salmon omelette. Really tasty. After that, karaoke with a few more friends, and finally pizza at Shakey’s, a few beers, and MANLY CONVERSATION.
Saturday we’d planned to visit the Oedo Onsen Monogatari, but lack of persons postponed that to Sunday. Instead, Jade and I visited Tokyo Dome City to try and find where these cosplayers be at. Unfortunately, garishly-dressed fans were nowhere to be seen. Instead, the place was packed with air-headed KAT-TUN fans, killing time until his (edit: oh wait its a band lol) big concert at the Dome that night, taking photos and waving fans (the kind you cool yourself down with, not people) with pictures of them pretty-boys on them. I felt sorry for the handful of boyfriends dragged along.
It was kinda cool to be back in that area. My first destination in Tokyo way back in 2007 was Jimbocho – I have a strong memory of going for a walk on my first night and ending up at the Dome late at night, playing Taiko no Tatsujin alone. So long ago. Plus, I got to see the big LaQua roller coaster I rode all that time ago, in my last week in Tokyo.
Almost bought a Hanshin Tigers jersey at the baseball store. (I have a secret love for the Tigers because they never, ever win. Funnily enough, a few days later I sat next to a Tigers fan decked out in every bit of merchandise imaginable on the Metro.)
Later we met up with our old friend Yudai for a few drinks in an izakaya – Jade’s introduction to these wonderful little places. After Rob and I had downed a few massive pitchers of beer, we met up with Risako and hit a brand-new Karaoke-Kan for a few songs. They had a great selection of songs, including – a first! – Pizzicato Five’s Twiggy-Twiggy, my first introduction to j-pop years and years ago. Shame we only had an hour there.
On Sunday, we took the train out to Odaiba over the Rainbow Bridge (again!) to visit the old Oedo Onsen, a kind of theme-park-hot-baths complex near the Telecom Center. We met up with Yudai and Kaz, ate some chicken at the Miraikan Lotteria, then met Risako and Rob to hit the onsen.
We went before in October, so it’s nice to bookend our trip there. Hit the hot baths – hit the sauna – hit the cold, cold bath. Ate ramen. I got ice cream. It’s a really nice place, and if you go after 6pm, it’s only 1,600 yen. Plus you get a faux-Edo period street full of people clattering about in yukata, which is cheesy fun.
Odaiba’s further than I thought. I’d missed the last train on the Seibu Line, so Jade and I walked from Higashi-Koganei, through the empty streets of Koganei back to Tama station. (Can you imagine walking through the dark streets of a British city at 1am and not running into something? Eh, maybe I’m just paranoid.) It was strangely beautiful, getting somewhat lost and then running across the enormous metal pylons of the Seibu Tamagawa Line, like disturbing Cold War brainwashing antennas in the middle of a entirely dead suburb of Tokyo.
Can you tell I am beginning to tire of this blog post? I need another fix of the Wire, but I don’t want to start the season 2 shit straight off … gotta space that shit out, bro.
Yesterday was Umi no Hi (Sea Day), another wonderful public holiday in Japan where everyone goes to the beach. Or goes to Harajuku to hit the sales (I roughly estimate a third of pedestrians were carrying a bag from Laforet – no lie).
It was a beautifully clear day, and we wanted to hit a few of the art galleries around the Omotesando area.
Sadly, one was closed for the holiday, and another was 1,000 yen for entry, so we saved our money and went to see exhibition of Hokusai’s famous Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei (富嶽三十六景)) at the Oota woodcut gallery. Hard to believe a gallery of such classically Japanese art is squirreled away behind a Softbank in ultra-hip Harajuku, but there’s that mix of ancient-and-modern that lazy travel journalists like to claim Japan is uniquely comprised of every single time they do a piece on Japan. (Unique my ass. Go to any British city and see a branch of Tescos next to a centuries-old cathedral, or a similar thing in any country in the world.)
Anyway, as a guy who owns a (very beat-up) jumbo A1-size poster of the famous Great Wave of Kanagawa, it was strange to see the real thing – a tiny square of thin paper with that incredible curve, the sprawling tentacles of foam, the crescent of the fishermen’s boat.
Ah, but is it the “real thing” at all? It’s a woodblock print, and thousands were made. There’s probably some point in there about what constitutes art, but it’s getting late and I think the point here is obvious.
As always, there’s the one everybody thinks of, but some of the less seen prints are more splendid. The thing about the woodblock printing technique is that the paper becomes 3D – gradients are infinitely smooth, characters pop out, fabrics are decorated with actually embossed patterns. They’re nothing short of breathtaking.
It occurred to me a nice little place I could show Jade – the Harajuku Chamamo Cat Cafe – so we went up to the little room on the fifth floor I visited some months ago and bothered the cats for an hour. It’s so relaxing, just watching them curled up. I had a chat with the owner in pretty decent Japanese, which was fun.
A long walk getting lost in Yoyogi Park in the still-hot twilight led me to feeling a tad heat-struck. I was feeling dog-tired by the time I stumbled back to my room, and I still don’t feel great.
It’s got to the point where I really don’t have any time left to do anything. I want to hit a festival this weekend (after we visit Hakone), and go to the beach, and see Osaka, and say goodbye to people, and pack, and finish this translation I’m doing, and post things home, and I’m still not sure if I can do it all in a measly twelve days. But … I guess I must persevere.
So, until next time, here’s what we all came to see: beautiful puddycats.