I'm currently on a “super train” heading to Kyoto; Elaine is asleep beside me – the medication she takes to prevent travel sickness always make her incredibly drowsy – so now is a good time to try and record some of what we've experienced so far, in between gazing out the window at hills and towns we keep passing.
It's hard to think of something to say about Tokyo that hasn't already been said before, although I can safely say it has completely changed my understanding of what a city really is, more so than even London. Like London, it all feels so familiar, a legacy of two decades of anime & manga, the absorbtion of Japanese culture by osmosis, but at the same time it's a total affirmation of one of the major laws of complexity: more is different. Unlike London, the city just seems alive all the time; I couldn't believe we weren't able to easily get a seat at a local eatery at 10pm, but if anything it seems more busy at that time than earlier in the evening.
Exactly as we'd been warned, the smog over Tokyo is palpable; it has been overcast since we arrived, which combines with the never-ending exhalation of the city like an early morning mist, one that doesn't evaporate as the day grows older. By night, it's even beautiful, capturing blue and green neon especially to create a truly spectacular view, an auroris pollutaris. Right now, passing through the countryside, it feels like we're up amongst the clouds, although I'm sure it has more to do with the smoke coming from the factory chimneys that I can see everywhere.
Learning from our last overseas experience, pretty much all of the hotels we're staying at are within immediate walking distance of major stations, and our stop in Shibuya was no different. We're a block away from the intersection emphasised in the film Lost in Translation, an insane scramble crossing overseen by a twenty-story face of Solid Snake gazing down at the mass of pedestrians...Metal Gear Solid 4 has just been launched, the marketting for which is unbelievably pervasive. There are vending machines everywhere, as promised, but I can't fault any country that has such a love for grape Fanta. One pleasant surprise is that all the food we've bought so far actually looks like the food advertised, even the McDonald's breakfast muffins we grabbed before the train left this morning. They put maple syrup on their muffins here; so damned civilised.
Even expecting it, I'm not used to the acceptance that the videogame culture has here. In one arcade, we watched a high school girl casually playing Magic Quiz Quest V (we've never even seen I thru V!), occassionaly pulling out her mobile phone to record her accomplishments. Outside what looked like yet-another-arcade in Akihabara, an enormous poster of the main Neon Genesis Evangelion cast proclaimed in English, “The Angels Are Back!” Wandering inside to check it out, we found it was actually a pachinko parlour, every machine occupied by a salaryman pumping ball bearings frantically into the slot before him. On Evangelion-branded machines, clips from the show strobed frantically at every action. It was kind of like expecting, say, a Lost movie but finding out they'd released themed poker machines instead...everyone's a winner with Jack!
Last night we caught a train out to Akihabara, the Mecca of electronic gadgetry. We were greeted as we exited the station by a handful of teenage girls in french maid outfits, although one was slightly more confusingly dressed as a cat in a french maid outfit, or maybe as a french maid dressed as a cat. They were promoting one of the nearby cafes, which I'm sure must do splendid business with the patrons of the many pachinko parlours and manga bookstores we saw. Try as we might, I was unable to find any store in the area that could sell me a Nokia N810 internet tablet. Even trying to explain what I was looking for was frustrating, except in the one store where I could google it and point, but if it's not an ipod it just doesn't seem to be relevant here.
In a few hours we'll be in Kyoto, where we're staying at a riyukan, the traditional Japanese equivalent of a bed & breakfast. It's between a shrine & a temple, although saying that is probably superfluous given the number of such the city apparently has.
(In Hiroshima now, no net access in Kyoto, still assimilating everything we saw...more tomorrow!)