Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tokyo: tenth day

Trainblogging again on the way home from Tokyo, heading into the sunset. For the first half-hour or so out of Tokyo, the train follows the coastline; as when travelling along the Mediterranean coast of France/Italy one gets tantalizing glimpses of the sea between the tunnels. [Written on Wednesday, but I was too tired to post it. It's funny, I am not having any of the usual jetlag symptoms, but I am tired all the time.]

I was mystified for a while by irregularly-occurring flashes of diffuse reddish light, off in the distance, well above ground level. Were they aircraft warning lights on hilltops shining through low cloud? Eventually the train changed direction and I worked out that they had been caused by the sun reflecting on pylons and posts by the trackside, which were themselves flashing past too fast to see.

I've taken many photos from the train, one or two of which might turn out. I have quite a few shots of sound-protection walls and the broad and featureless sides of huge buildings, and a surprising number of shots of the insides of tunnels. The Shinkansen goes so fast that there is no warning at all of these things as they approach. Even the tunnels come as a surprise: on the ICE one usually has time to note the ground rising before the train plunges into darkness; here the first you know of a hill is when you dive under it.

I guess I won't see the peak of Fuji-san this time either: we aren't yet in Mishima and it is already pitch-black outside. I saw the base of Fuji on the way to Tokyo: even with its shoulders lost in clouds it is unmistakeable, not just tall but broad, truly massive. It's very much bigger than any other mountain in Japan, a sumo wrestler among schoolboys.

Tokyo was … well, where to start? It was many things: "huge" is one; "new" another; "exhausting" a third. There was simply too much choice for such a short trip. I found it hard work in a way that Kyoto wasn't. I certainly had more luck in finding English-speakers in Kyoto. (That is probably statistically insignificant, btw: I guess that every foreign visitor to Japan goes to both cities; given the cities' relative sizes those N visitors encounter, and infect with the meme of English-speakingness, a far higher percentage of the population of Kyoto than of Tokyo.)

I walked around Akihabara last night, checking out the otaku/manga/animé/geek culture. At first I was taken by the stores selling electronics and gadgetry (e.g. a tiny shop selling only sixty different types of electricians' pliers) but eventually the animé/manga scene captured my attention. The stores selling manga/animé figurines were a revelation. I'd heard about them, about the collectors and their seriousness, but I wasn't prepared for the reality. There are differences of quality and purpose (for want of a word) in the figures that even an outsider like myself can see, and the prices reflect this: from around 800¥ for a simple, static, two- or three-inch figure, to 2500¥ for a six-inch articulated figure with exchangeable heads/hands/accessories (i.e. different gestures and facial expressions), to around 5000¥ for the Gundam weaponized cyborgs that we Westerners call "Transformers," and on upwards to 20000¥ for a seriously creepy foot-high too-young-even-for-Lolita figurine.

Most of the smaller stores specialized in a single animé "franchises;" in the case of larger stores these were displayed on different floors. I'd guess that there is little overlap between the fans of e.g. Evangelion and those of Gundam, or between them and the fans of Dragonball and the Sailor Moon imperium. Not to mention the Star Wars imperium, which is nowhere near as present in Japan as in the west.

When I first started walking around Kyoto, looking at the Japanese, I thought that Japan looked like Second Life; having been to Akihabara and Harajuku, I now think that SL looks like Japan. So much of the common dress and appearance in SL is rooted in Japanese styles: the thigh-high boots, the straps and buckles, the stripes of fur along the touchable edges of jackets and boots, the mini-skirts that are hardly more than wide belts worn low. The "sexy schoolgirl" is common in Japan, but then she was already an erotic archetype in England thirty years ago so that doesn't really count towards my view of SL. (There sure are a lot of them, though most seem to be in their early twenties. I admit to enjoying the six or more inches of bare skin between the tops of their over-the-knee boots and the bottom of their miniskirts.) Even the tiny heads and bulging muscles of many male SL avatars have a Japanese root: most male action-animé characters have heads far smaller than their biceps. (Bishonen and yaoi animé characters, and the male supporting-cast of animé featuring women, are improbably good-looking but do have realistic bodies.)

In sadder news, I left my kangol (flat hat) on the subway train on the way back from Ueno, so I'll have a chance to investigate a question that puzzled me all last week: Kyoto is full of hat shops, I noticed at least six of them while walking around — yet nobody wears hats. No-one. So who buys all the hats, and what do they do with them? Is there a secret indoor hat-fetishing scene? A mystery.

One more point about the JapanRail pass: I forgot to mention that you should allow at least forty minutes to have it validated before you first use it. In Tokyo there is a special office for this near the Yaesu central exit; in Kyoto it was just a desk (singular) in the ticket office, where a young woman struggled valiantly against the tide. And note this too: visitors to Japan, especially those who don't speak Japanese, should allow a good fifteen minutes extra time in each station for getting lost and misdirected (or rather correctly directed to a misunderstood goal).

Kyoto is next, I'll pack up and get ready.

[Later: An amusing thing happened during the subway journey home to Uda-san's B&B. While standing around on Kyoto subway station platform waiting for the train, I was approached by a pair of Europeans with a map and a problem: Which train should they take to get to their B&B, and how would they go about finding it when they got there? As it happened we were heading the same way, so we talked for a while in the train. I was able to tell them roughly what to do, and how to go about getting the information they'd need to get to the rest of the way. Being able to help them promoted me from "stranger" to "insider." Nice.]

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Insider now, and world traveler.

December 6, 2010 at 11:43:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Anonymous kiremimi said...

Hi, Glad to be able to read your Tokyo trip story, as I only knew how your stay in kyoto. Akihabara is really something...Nice to know you were never lost in translation, but helped others who lost in subway!
As for Marube, she said to me that she really enjoyed your visit, and she wish she could arrange a seat for the last day of the Sumo tournament that was on-going in Fukuoka when you visit there.


December 16, 2010 at 10:51:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger Zhoen said...

Have you read any of the Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai?

December 27, 2010 at 2:48:00 a.m. GMT+1  

Post a Comment

<< Home