I have just returned from a two-week sojourn in Japan. I was unable to send many postcards – the Internet is revolutionising some countries faster than others...here, postcards are as hard to find as Internet cafes.
The trains and subways were easily negotiated to arrive at my hotel. The trains are scarily efficient. You buy a ticket at your starting point, and all stations have a ‘fare adjustment’ machine where you can check your ticket and add more money on in case you didn't get the right one.
If there is one thing I will remember about this trip it's the heat. A soaked T-shirt by nine in the morning and feeling like a dishrag by three in the afternoon and ready to call it quits. Exhausting. And I have definitely doubled my freckle quotient.
One of the highlights of Tokyo, apart from the peace and tranquillity of the Meji shrine, was near its entrance at Yoyogi Park where the youth culture is on display. Apparently they are popular with market testers for trendy goods, because if it takes off here, success is assured. In the immense heat we saw, mainly girls, dressed in black and white. Lots of white platform shoes that were too high to walk in (these girls only tottered to their feet when a tourist wanted a picture), lots of gauzy white stuff, long white false nails, powdered white faces with black makeup, non-matching black and white patterned knee high socks, lots of air-tight vynal gear (masochists!) and hair primped and teased into every direction of the compass. Think Billy Idol meets wedding cake.
Another highlight was the Tsukiji fish market. This place really brought to the fore the reality of feeding this nation. The tonnage of fish processed every day would make your jaw drop. And that's only for one day. No wonder the oceans are emptying out. First stop was the tuna auctions where we saw enormous fish, frozen solid, up to four feet long, already eyeless and gutted (standard semi-circular holes). Men were moving amongst these frozen corpses with huge crowbars flicking and dragging them all over the place. You could also see a flap of skin pealed back at the end near the tail where the buyers tested a scrap for taste, colour and texture. The auctions work in a peculiar reverse way: the auctioneer announces a price. If there are no takers, he goes lower. As soon as there is a taker, that's it. Off to the next fish. You'd have to be gutsy, I reckon. Efficient though, as you are left in no doubt as to what the highest bidder will pay, unlike in the auctions we are used to.
In the main part of the market we walked past brilliant red octopus under clear blocks of ice, boxes of oysters in bubbling water, herrings, loads of stuff I couldn't begin to describe or hope to identify. A highlight was watching a brawny bare-chested man pull out a knife that resembled a samurai sword to commence carving up tuna into sellable chunks. The place was a major ant nest of activity and woe betide those who didn't stay awake: fast little truck-like vehicles race around the alleys and by-ways between stalls carrying all manner of things and we were constantly in danger of being sashimi'd.