Big in Japan

Just back from a week in Tokyo and, to be honest, a little shell shocked. In a good way. Maybe it’s the jet lag but I’m still trying to piece it all together.

I know I should be led out behind the mess hut, blindfolded, wrists bound, and shot by firing squad for saying “it’s a clash of cultures” but blimey, it’s quite a clash of cultures.

My number one tip for Tokyo: take a deep breath and dive in. You’re going to get lost. You’re not going to know what you’re eating half the time – see above. (Actually, make that 90% of the time. That’s eel on a stick in the photo by the way and a bargain at less than a pound). Communication is going to be difficult (pretty much no speaks English and Japanese isn’t easy) – but it’s going to be amazing.

First things first – do a bit of planning. If you’re going to be travelling around the country get a Japan Rail pass, available only to foreigners, which will definitely save you money if you’re doing anything more than just a Tokyo-Kyoto return. And before you use the Tokyo metro for the first time pick up the tourist board’s English language leaflet when you’re at the airport on how to buy a ticket – first time it’s terrifying, second time onwards you’ll wonder what the fuss was about.  Outside of rush hour it’s really not cramped at all. And it’s spotless. No one drops litter, no one talks loudly on their mobile, no one turns their iPods up so you can hear what’s blaring out of some spotty youth’s headphones from three carriages away. Trains arrive on time. So all in all just like London then.

Oh and get used to people wearing masks. Seems weird at first, but when you’re home some and some herbert sneezes all over you, you’ll look back wistfully at your time in Japan.

Accept that some things are too weird to accept. Yes, you could go to Starbucks (and they are liberally sprinkled all over Tokyo) or you could shake a banana milk shake and sing a little song in a squeaky high pitched voice in a maid cafe.

And there can’t be too many capital cities in the world where you can be buried in hot sand and poach in natural hot springs a 20-minute metro ride from downtown.

And where else can you change into the same cult-like brown pyjamas as all fellow guests for a night, and sleep in a poorly-ventilated, oversized coffin for the princely sum of around £30 per night? (You may be picking up a bit of cynicism here, but seriously, capsule hotels seem like a fun idea when you’re planning a trip to Japan. The reality is a bit more down to earth when you’re lying in one wide awake with jet lag at 3am. I don’t think you’d find many tourists who’d willingly do two nights).

But there again, it’s pretty cool to be wandering down the road and bump into blokes like this.

And to eat sushi and have a view like this out of the window – sushi, which by the way, is so good it will make you cry the next time you buy packaged supermarket rubbish back in the UK.

And OK, the Big One may be on the way – if the ground starts to shake, make like the cat in this poster and dive under a table; number 2 thing to do, turn the gas off; number 3 thing to do once it’s all stopped wobbling, prop open a door with a chair – but that’s just another thing that makes Tokyo what it is.  Pretty bloody amazing.






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