Japan: ‘I’ll send you a map.’October 19, 2009
Or, What We Did on Our Holidays part III – The Final Destination.
I must admit that when the kind friend who was meeting us in Tokyo sent two maps, a series of written instructions and an emergency phone number, we thought she’d gone slightly over the top. Japanese railway notices are in English, and the staff are famously helpful. In fact this summer they were told that if they didn’t smile enough at the customers, they would be sent on special training courses.
So, how hard could it be?
Very, as it turned out. Shinjuku station is the busiest in the world. It’s a miracle of efficiency that boasts miles of corridors, millions of travellers, dozens of escalators and two hundred exits. (I’m quoting Wikipedia for the exits figure. We didn’t visit them all, although I did begin to wonder if we might.)
Having rescued us from Shinjuku, Kind Friend took us to see Tokyo the easy way. This is NOT the famous view from the bar of the hotel where ‘Lost in Translation’ was filmed, and where beer is allegedly £30 a pint. This is taken from the top of the Metropolitan building, which is apparently just as good – and free. We were told Mount Fuji was out there somewhere. Please use your imagination.
After the urban madness of Tokyo it was a relief to go somewhere with only two possible directions, UP and DOWN:
Here’s the view the skiers would have seen from the start of the downhill run in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Presumably with more snow.
Below: in Kind Friend’s flat, clutching a traditional soft drink whose name I’ve forgotten and relishing the thought of not having to navigate anywhere at all. Note the absence of chairs, which is an interesting challenge for the British back.
You can’t go to Japan and not try Sushi…
…and Japanese fast food, which is a work of art. Here’s a display of ‘Bento boxes’, supplied with disposable chopsticks.
Whilst it might not be as comforting as a bag of chips, I have to say the Bento Box wins hands down for presentation. And possibly goes some way towards explaining another cultural difference. After a fortnight surrounded by slim Russians and slender Japanese and Koreans, I began to realise that all those things they say about the British being overweight are truer than some of us would like to think.
To be honest some of us (well OK, me) aren’t very fit, either. So no wonder the smiles gave way to expressions of regret when the nice men in the ticket office told us the last train to the airport was leaving in three minutes’ time from a platform somewhere else in the middle of the dreaded Shinjuku station.
Luckily our very few words of Japanese included ‘Excuse me!’ and ‘Thank you!’ – much needed as we rampaged through corridors, up and down escalators and along platforms in pursuit of Eldest Son who had finally, just in time, figured out how to navigate in Japan.